By Laura Green
“Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. But for some of us, there is only today.”
Ry Russo-Young’s Before I Fall movie adaption of Lauren Oliver’s 2010 novel of the same name is a modern critique of teenage bullying, ingratitude, and materialism.
It’s protagonist, Samantha Kingston, dies in a car crash the night after a party only to wake up and relive the same day, in a nightmarish cycle that she is challenged to correct by learning to appreciate and apologise to those she’s wronged.
Over the course of the movie, the viewer follows Sam and her friends Lindsay, Elody, and Ally, their friendship, and Lindsay’s penchant for bullying anyone different or vulnerable. It explores the reasons for her bullying, and Sam’s exposure to the repeated day emphasises the dire impact that her complicity to bullying has on the clique’s victims.
The film addresses modern themes to interest a young adult audience, ranging from the rise of social media and cyberbullying to the struggle of LGBTQIA+ youth to be accepted and understood.
While the film certainly explores these themes, it does little to contradict the harm they clearly create for the characters, and is unable to teach Sam’s friends the same lessons that she learns. Sam is merely a crony of the ringleader, Lindsay, and it’s difficult to understand why Sam is subjected to this cycle when she is the least aggressive bully of the four.
I also found the portrayal of these groups stifling; the mentally ill victim, Juliet Sykes, is a dramatized walking skeleton, with long tangled hair and ridiculously shabby clothes. Anna Cartulo is a feisty lesbian, another of Lindsay’s victims who they routinely refer to as “bull dyke,” due to her short haircut and punk rock clothing.
PSA to the costume department: mentally ill and LGBTQIA+ people look much the same as everybody else. While it’s great to see representations of vulnerable groups in films, these are extreme stereotypes and don’t tend to help the objectification of their struggles.
Overall, I viewed Before I Fall as an accurate yet ineffective remake of The Breakfast Club, where the only character who learned to accept diversity and feel gratitude for the life she has been given has no chance to truly communicate these values to others. The open ending felt jarring rather than uplifting, and raises the question, what really happens to the characters? Does anything ever change?
Perhaps Russo-Young trusts her young viewers to come up with their own solution to the harassment that goes on in high schools, and perhaps that is the intended legacy of this film, as Sam’s voiceover challenges the viewer: “I had to do something that would make a difference. Maybe things could change, and maybe I could change them.”
Watch the trailer below: