Teen angst genre films based on YA books have been on the rise ever since Twilight almost a decade ago, although a couple of them have been alright (Beautiful Creatures, I Am Number Four) they tend to wind up on my worst-of-the-year list. I try to get with them, I want to at least like every movie I see, but sometimes that doesn’t pan out. This brings us to the topic at hand tonight, which is this week’s new teen angst genre film Before I Fall. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but “Based on the Bestselling Novel” is becoming the new “Inspired by a True Story”– you know you’re in for some bullshit.
22-year old Zoey Deutch plays 15-year old Sam, a normal high school girl who is just enjoying crushing on boys and partying with her friends. On Valentine’s Day, Sam and her friends (Halston Sage, Medalion Rahimi and Cynthy Wu) attend a party, getting drunk and fighting with a girl they bully at school (Elena Kampouris) eventually leading them to leave and get into a car crash–seemingly killing the girls. But it’s not so simple–Sam wakes up on Valentine’s Day morning again. As Sam finds herself stuck in a time loop of the last day of her life, she uncovers the mysterious circumstances around her death and learns some life lessons along the way.
Although the jokes about the 20-year old students are so easy to make–made even easier when the only other teacher you see is only 4 years older than Zoey Deutch–this film’s strongest attribute is the cast. Zoey Deutch is an actress who I’ve started to like, especially with her great performance in last year’s Everybody Wants Some!!!, and she brings her charisma and natural delivery to this film. Although the script isn’t very strong and the characters are annoying, the group of girls do come off as friends very naturally. Right off the bat, you get the feeling that they’ve known each other for years. Deutch does a very admirable job trying to bring something to a character that jut isn’t there on paper, they all do what they can with what they have. Halston Sage is the best casting choice here, she plays a character that you are really supposed to hate and Sage does such a great job at making you hate her–you’ll hate her damn-near as much as you hate those villains in Rambo.
There are two more compliments that I’d like to give this film and they’re in technical fields–the score and the cinematography. The score is especially out of place, sounding like rejected tracks from the It Follows soundtrack. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, it was very cool, moody music that helped breath some life into scenes that really needed it. The cinematography was also a surprise, although the film looks very cheap at times, the greyed-out filter that they put over the film gives it a nice, moody atmosphere to go with the music. As you can see, there are plenty of tools here to set me up a world that I want to live in for 90-minutes, if only the script is there–which I can assure you it was not.
For a film that tries to be a personal story, there isn’t a single likable character in the whole thing. Although every actor has to step over the minefield of bad dialogue that is the script, they’re doubly screwed by the fact that all of these characters are just straight-up annoying. It’s something that I don’t mind them setting up in the beginning, it’s a redemption story so I don’t mind my character being an ass in the beginning, but there is zero character arc here for Zoey Deutch’s character. By the time we get to the ending and she has her big revelation, you’ll find yourself asking “How the fuck did you get there?”. The movie has no idea what kind of arc to give the lead, attempting to balance out the bigger picture of the time loop and the personal side of the “coming-of-age teenage girl” angle–neither of which mix together smoothly. They also attempt to give almost every single side character an arc at some point, but none of them come to a satisfying close, some of them are just dropped completely.
Not only can the film not figure out what arc to give the protagonist, it also doesn’t quite know what message it’s trying to convey. Live life to the fullest? Don’t judge a book by its cover? Treat others how you’d like to be treated? Sometimes our problems are bigger than just us? By the time you give up trying to figure out what the message is, the movie’s over and you’ll almost have forgotten about it already. That may be the film’s biggest crime: It serves no purpose. Even if a movie is a little cheesy and aimed at a younger audience, if it serves a purpose and teaches a lesson, then that’s fine by me. But this movie just dances around a message and doesn’t actually give one, it just feels so calculated in every frame. You can see where the out-of-touch, middle-aged producers are trying to appeal to what they think teenage girls will ooze over and it comes off as nothing but annoying and obnoxious the whole way through.
Like I said, there was enough interesting set up here to pull me into this world, but this is nothing but a cheap attempt to tap into the teenage girl audience while being transparent and pointless. Annoying characters that are set up and then completely dropped, unfulfilled character arcs, bad plotting and an almost insulting attempt at being methodical in the ending all turn this once-potential holding teeny bopper flick into a boring dreck. I hope to see all of these actresses work later down the line, but as far as these YA movies? Let’s hope that after this bombs opening weekend, this trend’ll be officially dead. Let’s just lay this down in the same forgotten hole that we placed The Fifth Wave and If I Stay.