Teen Drama ‘Before I Fall’ Flirts with High Art
March 9, 2017
Ry Russo-Young’s film “Before I Fall” will dominate high school cafeteria conversation for the next several weeks. Based on the bestselling young adult novel of the same name, the movie follows protagonist Samantha (Zoey Deutch), who suffers a tragic accident and bizarrely keeps reliving the same day. The film contains all the elements that attract the teenage demographic: an easy-to-follow narrative that leaves the audience simultaneously fulfilled and emotional, a top-40 soundtrack and a cast of #relatable actors with #relatable qualities who critique social norms just enough to appear insightful. Simply put, young adults are going to eat this film up.
But for older viewers, the aforementioned qualities are probably not going to cut it. Fret not, as Russo-Young balances teen film cliches with polished filmmaking and slight hints of artistry that would make the most esteemed of cinema aficionados raise an eyebrow.
Russo-Young knows how to work her colors — the subtle blues of the daylight scenes contrast with a significant night scene bathed in red. This skillful color use is juxtaposed with wide-scoping shots that capture both the grandeur and dreariness of the Pacific Northwest. These details aren’t just visually interesting — they establish a tone and even serve as metaphors for the emotions on-screen. Components like these are virtually unseen in most teen films, whether due to stylistic preferences or underestimation of the audiences.
The plot might be familiar for anyone who has heard of “Groundhog Day,” but it is less that and more “Life is Strange.” This is less of a trick with the plot and more of an area for exploration of time structures within film, which helps lessen any worries that the story would be unfathomably repetitive. After the third or so loop of the day, Samantha decides to begin experimenting with the intricacies of her new reality, and this is where the film’s performances shine brightest. In a cast full of somewhat inflated youth performers, Deutch is at her greatest, but the real spotlight is stolen by Liv Hewson, who is given just one scene towards the middle of the film where she shatters her character’s archetype and is genuinely captivating.
While Russo-Young’s craft is undeniable, kinks in the production are still present. The romantic subplot in the narrative ends up feeling flat and forced, and the clean editing the movie starts with falls apart at the end, leaving viewers with a final conclusion that feels jarring and void of sentiment. While these errors do not detract from the final product, they do demonstrate that Russo-Young is still getting ahold of her cinematic footing.
Fans of the original novel who see the film will critique how different it is from the written work. But faithfulness to the source material should not be the reason for deciding to check this film out; instead, go for a glimpse of an exciting filmmaking talent who hopefully gets juicer work in the future.
“Before I Fall” was released in theaters on Friday, March 3.
Email Matthew Holman at [email protected].