[Screen It]


(2017) (Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage) (PG-13)

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Drama: A "mean girl" high school student reexamines her life and behavior when she suddenly ends up in a loop where the same day plays out over and over again.
Samantha Kingston (ZOEY DEUTCH) is one of a quartet of "mean girls" at her high school, and along with Lindsay (HALSTON SAGE), Elody (MEDALION RAHIMI) and Ally (CYNTHY WU), she routinely makes fun of a lesbian classmate, Anna (LIV HEWSON), as well as a loner student, Juliet (ELENA KAMPOURIS), who draws dark art. But Samantha is most focused today -- "Cupid's Day -- on losing her virginity to her boyfriend, Rob (KIAN LAWLEY), at a party thrown by another student, Kent (LOGAN MILLER), who's secretly in love with her.

But the deflowering doesn't occur due to Rob being too drunk, not to mention the four girls publically shaming Juliet who's arrived to confront them. Being successful at that, the girls hop in Lindsay's SUV and head off at night, only to be involved in a single vehicle accident. But rather than wake up in the hospital, Samantha wakes up in her own bed, unscathed and confused to find that she's somehow ended up replaying the day before, including that late-night accident.

And thus begins a cycle where Cupid's Day plays out over and over again, with Samantha having no way to break the cycle no matter how she behaves or what she changes. From that point on, she goes through different reactions to this unexpected circumstance and begins to question her and her friends' past behavior.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
There's the old saying about feeling like you're on a treadmill. Not in literal terms of staying fit or getting in shape, mind you, but rather figuratively as in feeling like you're moving forward, but ultimately going nowhere and thus pretty much living the same life day after day, week after week and so on.

Writer/director Harold Ramis and co-writer Danny Rubin had fun with that notion in the 1993 comedy "Groundhog Day" where Bill Murray's disgruntled TV weatherman character ends up stuck in a 24-hour loop in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania covering the titular event. Once he figures out and understands his new reality, and goes through a variety of reactions to that, he becomes a better man by learning from his mistakes "the day before."

That educational angle was given a fun, sci-fi slant in Doug Liman's "Edge of Tomorrow" from 2014 where Tom Cruise plays a public relations officer turned unlikely soldier who likewise gets stuck in a time loop while trying to defeat an alien enemy. While he doesn't do much changing in terms of personality or non-military behavior, he does use what he learns each day to get one step closer every time to solving the problem at hand.

And now the 24-hour loop gets deployed again in "Before I Fall," a big-screen adaptation of Lauren Oliver's 2010 young adult novel of the same name. As directed by Ry Russo-Young from Maria Maggenti's screenplay adaptation, the offering is more "Groundhog" than "Edge" in that it has a protagonist stuck on a certain signature day (in this case, Cupid's Day, which I'm guessing is Valentine's Day maybe?) and ends up reassessing her life and changing her ways.

That girl is high school student Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) who's one-quarter of a "mean girls" quartet that routinely puts down, mocks and harasses others, such as the school's lesbian (Liv Hewson) and loner outcast (Elena Kampouris). That comes to a head at a party thrown by a classmate, Kent (Logan Miller), where Samantha plans on losing her virginity to her boyfriend, Rob (Kian Lawley).

But he ends up too drunk and the outcast, Juliet, shows up to confront Samantha and her mean gal pals (played by Halston Sage, Medalion Rahimi, and Allison Harris). After they gang up on the loner and soak her with beer tossed her way, she runs out and they exit the party, only to have a sudden, single vehicle accident that doesn't look as if it's going to end up well.

But the next morning Samantha wakes up in her bed and is confused by everyone acting like it's the day before. She eventually realizes it is and watches in horror as the crash occurs again, followed by her waking up again (albeit without Sonny and Cher serenading her on a clock radio). And then again. And again. And...well, you get the picture.

As does Samantha who, like Phil Connors before her, goes through various stage of reaction before deciding on becoming a better person, figuring out what her friends' mean and catty ways are likely covering up in terms of insecurities and such, and treating the previously mistreated in better ways.

Younger teens who've never witnessed a storyline such as this might think that's revolutionary (and evolutionary on the part of the protagonist). But many of us who've been around the cinematic block a few times are likely to walk into the theater already issuing a few demerits simply for smashing "Groundhog Day" and "Mean Girls" together.

I'll admit I was ready to write this off, but you know what, it actually works. It's not as funny as Murray's flick and it's certainly not as action packed as Cruise's. But in the smaller scale in which it operates it hits enough notes just right to come off profound and poignant enough that you don't mind the mash-up and lack of originality. And if it manages to get a bully or two in real life to rethink their behavior and reexamine their lives, so much the better.

While I can't say that I'd want to be stuck in a looping day where this is the only movie that's playing in those 24 hours (unlike "Groundhog Day" which would make me happy), "Before I Fall" is good enough to warrant a 6 out of 10 rating.

Reviewed February 25, 2017 / Posted March 3, 2017

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