Review By Bears Fonte
Have we reached the time where GROUNDHOG DAY is so ubiquitous that it can be remade and reset in new locales like a Shakespeare play? Whenever a director puts their own unique spin on Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet it can reveal as much about the setting as the text. But Harold Ramis’ film is one of the most cherished of the last 25 years. Ry Russo-Young’s BEFORE I FALL resets the classic comedy into a clique of mean girls at a high school and substitutes sentimentality for satire.
Samantha Kingston is part of the cool circle that rules the school. Tonight she plans to lose her virginity to her hot boyfriend. But when the girl Sam and her friends mock shows up at the kegger, the night takes a turn for the worse. The girls publicly shame the outsider, throwing their beers at her. Sam’s boyfriend is drunk and hitting on other girls. Then, on the way home, they get in a car accident. Unfortunately, the next day Sam wakes up and has to do it all again. She finds herself in a GROUNDHOG DAY loop until she can save herself.
I’m writing this review as if the film is a straight adaptation but as far as I can tell, it is not acknowledging that. I did not see a credit for Ramis and yet, note for note, BEFORE I FALL is GROUNDHOG DAY. Our lead character is not so nice and is forced to repeat the day over and over until she learns her lesson. The repeated day is a holiday (in this case Cupid Day, some sort of bizarre Valentine’s Day replacement for no reason – I was left wondering if Valentine’s Day has been trademarked like tv people doing Internet searches on spyderfinder). Every morning she wakes up to the same song. She has sequences where she acts out because she can, she has sequences where she almost gets it right but still has to reset. It’s as if they think the audience has never seen Bill Murray buy insurance from Ned Ryerson.
Actually, if you get past the blatant plagiarism, the film works quite well. By replacing the comedy with heartfelt character realizations, BEFORE I FALL feels a bit like a FreeForm version of the original, but I can’t say it didn’t nail what it was trying to do. I spent most of the second half of the film crying (although I am also severely sleep deprived by now). The mean girl clique are all suitably awful and the one major shift the film makes from the original serves the plot nicely. Sam is not the queen bee of her hive and therefore somewhat powerless to change everything that went wrong that day. It even gives her the double realization where she can first accuse her friend of being the reason she has to repeat the day (only to understand later that she has been just as awful if not as overt). I also have to applaud the film for having perfect structure, nailing it’s pace and tension, enjoying its fun and games, diving down to an all is lost moment, I can’t help it, I am a Blake Snyder acolyte.
Unfortunately, the strengths of the adaptation are not enough to redeem the film which limps off to an overwrought start with hallmark greeting voice over and surfacey characters. In a film about consequences, Sam never seems to suffer much (restarting every day solves that but inside the day there could be more, such as when she publicly seduces her English teacher). But I think it comes down to the simple reality that though we can all acknowledge there are no new ideas anymore, it is hard to perfect a film like GROUNDHOG DAY and Russo-Young does not do enough to distinguish BEFORE I FALL from its (unacknowledged) source material.
BEFORE I FALL world premiered at Sundance 2017.