Before I Fall

A quintessential mean girl suddenly finds her day repeating over and over again, emphasizing the good and bad parts. A YA novel turned into feature-length movie goes to great lengths to make unsympathetic characters truly likable. This is a reminder how tough high school was and how we never want to return. But how sometimes those mean girls can truly change.

In chat, we discuss our perspectives on Before I Fall. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

jennism (Jenn Ng): How was your cupid day?

taiche (Chris Tai): It was ‘aight… got some donuts

jennism: I got a donut bouquet!

taiche: yop
I heard you also got flowers which is rare.

jennism: That’s all I remember the most from this movie, Before I Fall. Cupid day is a very important day, ladies and gentleman.
Yes, flowers die, so I am no fan of flowers

taiche: What I remember most? Teenagers are just… the worst.

jennism: But did this movie have all these…flowering emotions of coming of age and learning about true love

taiche: I’m sure many people talk about how they would love to relive their younger periods… but high school… that’s dangerous ground to tread upon.

jennism: Don’t we all never ever want to relive our high school lives?

taiche: So the early talk about this movie is that its Mean Girls meets Groundhog Day… is that indeed the case?
Only if you were homecoming king or queen and not named Carrie.

jennism: That’s what was so striking of Before I Fall. It’s about the stories that we tell ourselves about other people in high school. If Sally did _blah blah_ in the second grade, then it must be true. And of course, Bruce was so-and-so in a camping trip 10 years ago, he must never change.
It made me so glad to be an adult

taiche: Oh yes, it brought out more unhappy memories of high school than happy memories actually.

jennism: But yes, it partly is Mean Girls meets Groundhog Day, but take away the comedy and you have Before I Fall

taiche: So in a way, I enjoyed the movie more thinking “glad i’m not in high school anymore”

jennism: At first glance, it seems like another YA story. One of those about seeking romance etc etc. What was so shocking to me was that it wasn’t

taiche: Well, it’s seemingly more that Sam, the main character, and her clique already have it all: popularity, friends, hot boi, and about to graduate soon

jennism: YA novels, which this was based on, often fall into the trappings that romance must define everything, but this seemed like a character could rise above everything and find her own truth.
Yes, from her perspective, she had achieved success in high school
As adults, we know all of that doesn’t even matter. As one character says, it’s all “blip” and everyone will be forgotten

taiche: What I found surprising is that even though there are characters in the movie that are in a way, defined as “not a good person”, they still end up receiving sympathy after the main character’s epiphany
You haven’t read the YA novel that it is based on, right?

jennism: I haven’t read the YA novel
That’s the magic of the story. I wonder if it was due to the author’s skill or to the filmmaker’s skill. Perhaps both as in storytelling. I read a review of a book earlier, and one person noted how despite the main character being a mean girl, readers really learn to sympathize

taiche: Well, we all love a redemption story.

jennism: We understand why she thinks she has to be that way. Because what other inputs do we have beyond all the incidents in our youth. We don’t know any better. It’s hard to break out of the frame of reference if everyone is telling us that’s how we have to be

taiche: The main character isn’t even painted that negatively with broad strokes

jennism: But a good friend absolutely loved it

taiche: She seemingly just goes along with her clique

jennism: At first glance, it seems like it’s so. Sam has it all—the beauty, the boyfriend, the best friends, etc.

taiche: In the initial run of the story, the worst thing I think she does is call Juliet a freak during the house party scene. (edited)

jennism: Exactly. At the surface, not a big deal

taiche: And maybe yells at her little sister briefly for touching her stuff

jennism: But we are forced to see how those small snips make deeper cuts

taiche: But these are typical teenage behaviors (edited)

jennism: So Sam experiences one day of all this behavior, then boom CAR CRASH and wakes up repeating the whole day again

taiche: So as the story progresses, we go through the time loops that occur in these “Groundhog Day”-type stories

jennism: When she avoids getting into the car, the whole day repeats after she goes to sleep, but in that scenario, Juliet dies

taiche: I’m reminded of Edge of Tomorrow… Live, Die, Repeat
Butterfly Effect too. There were a few times early on that I had to turn my head during the movie and touch my nose

jennism: Those two are tainted so much by the goal of a lover

taiche: As in some of the writing was EXCEEDINGLY on the nose. The best example was the teacher’s lesson about Sisyphus. If during psychology class, the teacher had said, today’s we are going to talk about the phenomenon of DEJA VU i would have almost walked out. There was some blatant telegraphing early on. Still, despite all that, I still stuck with the story.

jennism: Granted, it is a YA audience, so some of that complexity cannot be there. And yet, it still had the complexity that I think it spanned across audiences. I wondered why Sam didn’t go to the extreme of testing out this whole repeating world

taiche: With these, there’s always a bit of character progression that is going on… like the five stages of grief. First they can’t believe it’s happening.. and the character tries to relive the day exactly. Then they try to avoid everything. Then they try to wreck everything. Then they try to enjoy everything. But what I appreciated was that the character decided they had to be worthwhile.

jennism: Even when she tried to wreck everything, it didn’t go very far. She didn’t even leave her hometown!

taiche: Sometimes, the motivation is any of these loops could be the last one so don’t fuck it up. In the end… she went with a decision that I didn’t think necessarily ended the time loop in the ideal sense. We don’t know if what ends the time loop is “living the right life” or just “dying”

jennism: Obviously, Sam is driven by emotion. What do you think of the mean girl vs. outcast

taiche: That was something that made me harken back to my own high school experience. There were people that I wanted to say things to… both good and bad… but wasn’t always courageous enough to do so. At the same time, I loved and hated people. I was jealous of people, and I had disdain for others. I kinda felt like Kent sometimes.

jennism: I was the outcast in my high school, so had more negative feelings than most. I had hope though every single year—things could only get better is what I told myself.

taiche: and Sam… and Juliet even. I wanted to be someone’s hero.

jennism: Interestingly, I never got to the level of Juliet, perhaps because by high school, I realized the best way to survive was to recede into the background. Unfortunately, that was never who I wanted to be and it backfired later in life. For Juliet, she was not allowed to recede into the background. Because of one “mean girl”, she never could escape and instead had to embody the role of the outcast

taiche: She was punished for someone else’s inadequacies as we learned

jennism: And that rang true, because haven’t we all, especially when we were young, blamed an innocent bystander for our misdeeds? Our desire to be normal was the most important thing

taiche: What did you think of Sam’s final loop in the movie? Did you think she had it all planned out?

jennism: It had that moment of spirituality. As if she knew what she had to do

taiche: Intent on saying her goodbyes in a sense? My “rational adult” sense kept screaming… there are better solutions!

jennism: It was too perfect in a way, but perhaps something needed to end. Readers on GoodReads have been constantly upset with the ending of the novel. Interestingly, the movie was faithful to the book in that way

taiche: It helped that Sam was played by a very sympathetic actress… I wanted her to solve her problems and succeed

jennism: They were most upset that as she says at the end, “I needed to die so that you can live.” They all wanted her to be with the right boy. But the tragedy wasn’t that. To me, the tragedy is the fact that high school still remains a horrible time for many as they try to figure who they are, how to be a good person, how to do the right thing

taiche: Though Kent was shown in a much more appealing light than bro-down Rob

jennism: That was the magic of the storytelling and the acting was that we were convinced that they had a chance. Everyone is good inside

taiche: I noticed in what she thought was the right timeline, she didn’t shun her clique… she didn’t rail on them or point out their failings (edited)

jennism: Or even just spent more time with her family

taiche: She tried to live a final day where she made everyone she interacted with “happy”

jennism: So then, what is the right choice?

taiche: Well, it stuck more with me that she “sacrificed” herself… but I worry that it just replaces one tragedy with another… when the next day begins and everyone is back where they were
She didn’t try to change her friends’ behaviors… she didn’t not go to the house party… she gave Kent his wish only… but she kept Juliet from dying

jennism: Did you feel like you were the Kent in high school?

taiche: Maybe!

jennism: I was certainly the Juliet to a lesser degree

taiche: Like I said earlier… I wanted to be someone’s hero. There were times where I would wish an earthquake would break out in the middle of class, so I could rescue and pull someone to safety. There were a lot of scenes in the movie that reminded me of my own experience… fears and hopes. So it did make me a bit more emotional than most movies.

jennism: Do you think that this movie emphasized an anti-bullying message?

taiche: Well, she doesn’t try to fix the bullying per se… like I said, the next day… I’m not sure of the members of clique will suddenly cease to be bullies.
They could possibly even be more cruel to Juliet for what her life cost them in Sam.

jennism: Yet I wonder if the target audience will want to see this as nowadays, YA novels are often read by adults

taiche: It was more like, find your own way to be a hero.

jennism: Quite naturally though, wouldn’t Juliet be accused of letting Sam die?

taiche: Yes exactly.

jennism: What people think of others doesn’t change overnight

taiche: I do think it could find niche appeal to adults… especially those that had difficult teenage years.

jennism: If she’s an outcast, won’t she remain an outcast. As a viewer, we are led to assume that Juliet will now want to live a life worth deserving. But the great thing is that high school is just a “blip”

taiche: Yeah, I wasn’t sure that because Sam gave her a “second chance” with her life, Juliet wasn’t suddenly going to change, become a popular girl, and not be considered a “weirdo” anymore.

jennism: Although it’s quite clear that an event like this certainly won’t be a “blip”. Everyone will remember that one night that someone got hit by a car and died. But the ending implies that everyone will realize their mistake and tada happy ever after. Yet still, the story was still touching as long as we suspending our disbelief. I think: all of us deserve to skip high school
I would have liked to skip middle school

taiche: I remember in the TV show Daybreak (which had a similar premise), there was a paranoid homeless man the main character runs into in a loop, and by the end, when the main character has solved the mystery… we see the same homeless man all nicely dressed in a suit walking by at the end.

jennism: In one day? That was the magic of Daybreak!
And go directly to college where I was already with many people like myself without any assumptions that get dragged from earlier years

taiche: It works better if we focus on Sam and how she lived her last day rather than think of the ramifications her death will have on the rest of the school.

jennism: And maybe that’s all we needed. To realize what high school was and could have been. And for me, leave it in the past

taiche: So like I said, with the sympathetic main character and her realization of what she cared most about in her life… that’s what kept me hooked.

jennism: The story made the characters rich and detailed. Surprisingly, we cared about all the characters even though they might be minor including Sam’s mother
So See ET There?

taiche: SeeETThere: 8/10 Cupid Day roses

jennism: Ah, those roses. A blatant popularity contest.
SeeETThere: 8/10 Cupid Day roses also!

taiche: It doesn’t reinvent anything regarding time loop movies or high school dramas, but it was a genuinely heartfelt character depiction of high school and I felt a lot of emotional baggage rising to the surface watching it.
I’m fairly certain my school would never have allowed something like that. Especially knowing kids would possibly send themselves extra roses to look extra popular

jennism: Goes beyond a typical YA novel plot so that it’s not just about romance, love, heartbreak. It’s about finding yourself. Your true authentic self. It’s about finding value. It’s about hope, loss, and sacrifice.

taiche: Big fan of Zoey Deutch here, lol
because of this movie

jennism: Also, props for the diverse mean girls

taiche: It’s YA, and that’s ok.

jennism: An Asian American! And I believe and Indian American too

taiche: Yep. And Jennifer Beals is always welcome.

jennism: Their names definitely weren’t ethnic, but major props for doing so. Because they were mean girls in that way too. I would like an origami bird on my bed one day

taiche: So See It There with some of your high school buds, and relive what a popular or unpopular person you were back then. Heathers or Revenge of the Nerds, haha

jennism: Or be glad that you don’t have to relive high school ever again. At least not in real life

Before I Fall

Samantha Kingston is a young woman who has it all: the crush-worthy boyfriend, amazing best friends and drop dead gorgeous looks. February 12 is just another charmed day in Sam’s life until it turns out to be her last. Stuck reliving her last day during one inexplicable week, Sam untangles the mystery surrounding her death and discovers the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.
Directors: Ry Russo-Young
Writers: Maria Maggenti
Stars: Zoey Deutch, Liv Hewson, Logan Miller, Jennifer Beals

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