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‘Before I Fall’ review: Teen ‘Groundhog Day’ with angst, not humor

A high-school girl must relive the same day over and over again until she figures out the right way to end it.  Credit: Open Road Films

PLOT A high school girl must keep reliving the same day until she changes the outcome.

CAST Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller

RATED PG-13 (mature themes)

LENGTH 1:39

BOTTOM LINE A teen version of “Groundhog Day,” but with angst instead of humor.

In “Before I Fall,” a popular high-school girl, Sam, finds herself living the same day over and over again. It feels like she’s being punished — but for what? Could it be for mocking a mentally ill classmate? Or standing by while friends cyberbully the school lesbian? Perhaps the universe is telling Sam to become a better person.

In other words, “Before I Fall” is essentially “Groundhog Day,” only it replaces Bill Murray’s embittered weatherman with a self-centered teenager straight out of “Mean Girls.” That’s a potentially interesting idea, although it requires borrowing liberally from two very well-known films. What’s more, those were comedies, and “Before I Fall” is filled with nothing but drama, drama, drama.

Sam (Zoey Deutch, of “Why Him?”) takes a while to come into focus for us. Her three friends — perky Ally (Cynthy Wu), quiet Elody (Medalion Rahimi) and queen bee Lindsay (Halston Sage) — initially seem harmless and shallow, but it slowly dawns on us that they are actually rotten people. A girl named Juliet (Elena Kampouris) is their favorite victim; as a result she has become the very picture of insanity, with tangled hair and bag-lady clothing. Sam’s childhood friend Kent (a very sweet Logan Miller) is now her distant admirer, though it’s unclear what he sees in her.

A post-soiree car crash changes things. The next morning, Sam awakes to relive that day — and then again. Gradually, she becomes kinder to her little sister (Erica Tremblay), her mom (Jennifer Beals) and even the school misfits. “Wait,” she says, “remind me why we hate Juliet again?” It’s almost as if Sam has seen a movie like this.

Director Ry Russo-Young seems genuinely interested in tapping into these characters and reminding us what fresh hell adolescence brings each day, but the material resists her. (The script, by Maria Maggenti, is based on Lauren Oliver’s young-adult novel.) Sam simply isn’t much of a protagonist. Why didn’t this film raise the stakes and make Sam a real villain who could transform into a heroine? Instead, Sam’s passivity makes her both less likable and less interesting.

It’s worth noting that “Before I Fall” takes place on something called “Cupid Day.” In the end, “Groundhog Day” simply casts too long a shadow over this movie.

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