Movies about teen girls and their relationships with each other shouldn’t be so few far and between as they are now in the film industry. Even television is leaning away from depicting female friendships in favor for complicated love triangles and other entanglements. It’s a shame, since growing up sometimes our models for friendship and what it means to be a friend is often provided to us via the media, be it film, TV or books, we consume. While I’m not here to psychoanalyze friendships between teen girls today, I do find great importance in films like Before I Fall, which has a message that isn’t exactly revolutionary but still matters.
Rising star Zoey Deutch is Sam, a high schooler living a charmed life with her cool clique and popular boyfriend in the Pacific Northwest. It’s Cupid Day at school, when friends and significant others send each other roses and one’s popularity is measured by the size of their bouquet. Sam’s friends use the rose gesture to taunt an unpopular “weird” girl, Juliet (Elena Kampouris), who they frequently bully. Per the teen drama formula, they end the night by going to a classmate’s house party where Juliet confronts Sam and her friends—Lindsay (Halston Sage), in particular. The girls double back on Juliet, humiliating her in front of everyone at the party, and Juliet flees the party in tears. The drama causes the girls to head home early, and on the way home, they get in a fatal car accident.
The next morning, Sam wakes up and relives the previous day, which she continues to do for the next week. Dealing with the shock of her death and the fact that no matter how she tries to change the fate of her and her friends she still wakes up to the same day, Sam goes through the stages of grief each day.
With each day, we see Sam transform from someone less shallow to a more empathetic person, and her growing selflessness has a ripple effect, it softens the meanness of her friends and provides a better understanding on why they act the way they do. It doesn’t so much as excuse their behavior, but the film explains it, adding some required depth that many of cinema’s “mean girls” don’t often get.
Regardless, the film could’ve played with its pacing and dived a bit deeper into these supporting players. However, the fact that director Ry Russo-Young and screenwriter Maria Maggenti take a moment to add some layers to Sam’s friends and family, and not focus entirely too much on romance and other common themes in modern teen dramas, is big in and of itself. It’s those scenes when Sam realizes why she died and the way she reaches out to her friends and family with renewed understanding that drives Before I Fall into something more special than expected. Along with its anti-bullying message, Before I Fall may not be unforgettable, but it definitely stands out amongst its contemporaries.
Before I Fall is now playing in theaters.