“Before I Fall” is what would happen if Nicholas Sparks rewrote “Groundhog Day” as a teen-angst melodrama. The same lessons are to be learned, in the same order, only instead of a funny Bill Murray learning them, it’s a brooding Zoey Deutch.
To be fair, Deutch (last seen as James Franco’s girlfriend in “Why Him?”) gives a committed, nuanced performance that is many degrees better than the film deserves. Based on a young-adult novel by Lauren Oliver (not Nicholas Sparks), this is the story of a high school senior named Samantha Kingston (Deutch) who dies one Friday night and then keeps reliving her final day. Seems she was a bit of a mean girl, abetting queen bee Lindsay (Halston Sage) and the others in their clique as they harassed unpopular students. These brats are AWFUL (Samantha is actually the least repellant among them), calling each other “bae” and Instagramming everything, to the extent that we are disappointed when only one of them is killed.
Once Samantha realizes she’s repeating the same day, and that she repeats it even when she manages to avoid dying at the end of it, she goes through two phases. First she decides to cut loose and do whatever she wants: dress trashy, sleep with her boyfriend, be an even bigger bitch than usual, etc. Fed up with it, her mother (Jennifer Beals) says, “You’re grounded!” to which Samantha replies, “I’m already grounded!” You know, by the universe. I’m trapped in an existential purgatory until I atone for my sins, Mom! You wouldn’t understand!
She soon gets bored with rebellion, though, and moves on to the mature phase of her groundhog day: trying to get it right. She reconnects with her little sister (Erica Tremblay), tries to repair the damage she and her friends did to a misfit girl named Juliet (Elena Kampouris), and does good deeds for the nice guy (Logan Miller) who has proven to be a better man than her dopey boyfriend.
The premise of reliving one day in a loop might be better suited to teens than grumpy weathermen anyway, given teens’ fondness for nihilism and having problems that no one can relate to. Director Ry Russo-Young, working from Maria Maggenti’s screenplay adaptation, hits all the beats you expect from a teen drama, including strict enforcement of the Law of Relevant Classroom Instruction (Samantha’s repeated school day has a lesson on Sisyphus), easily digested platitudes, and a cool, moody pop soundtrack. But everything about it except for Deutch’s mature performance is overly familiar, too mundane to justify its existence.
C+ (1 hr., 39 min.; )