Let’s get this out of the way: If “Before I Fall” were an elevator pitch, it would be a cross between “Groundhog Day” and “If I Stay.” It also shares strands of DNA with such teen-angst classics as “Carrie,” “Heathers” and “Mean Girls,” as well as the more recent — and sexually self-aware — coming-of-age parables “Diary of a Teenage Girl” and “The Edge of Seventeen.”
But even as those inescapable echoes bounce around the viewer’s head, this confident, tonally on-point adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s 2010 young-adult novel manages to carve out territory all its own — even if that happens to be the same rainy, blue-gray Pacific Northwest environs that bear more than a passing resemblance to “Twilight.”
But enough cross-referencing. In “Before I Fall,” Zoey Deutch plays Samantha, a pretty, well-liked high school student who, on one of the most auspicious days of her life, meets with a tragic end. Except it isn’t an end, exactly. In the kind of alternate universe that makes such parables as “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” possible, Sam winds up reliving the last day of her life every day for a week. She isn’t accompanied on her supernatural journey by an angel — although one might argue that, by the time she has learned the requisite lessons about life, love and kindness, the better angels of her nature have made their presence felt.
Adapted for the screen by writer Maria Maggenti and directed by Ry Russo-Young, “Before I Fall” exudes the kind of casual prosperity and offhand hypersexuality that, initially, cast Sam and her similarly well-to-do friends in the harsh light of spoiled, unexamined privilege. Driving to school with her three impossibly attractive besties, Sam engages in the teasing banter, Starbucks-fueled singalongs and lewd jokes that, we’re led to believe, compose the life of a typical teenage girl these days. Barely acknowledging her parents as she traverses their huge concrete-and-glass home, she’s her own proto-woman, heading into an assuredly fabulous future with little more than a parting glance at the past.
Sam may not be the queen bee at school — that title is reserved for her best friend, Lindsay, played with side-eyed hauteur by Halston Sage — but she’s first among alphas. It’s Cupid Day, when students send each other notes attached to a rose, and she has more than her share, including from her not-so-secret admirer Kent (Logan Miller).
Taken up with such momentous issues as popularity, pecking orders and the impending loss of her virginity to a lunkhead in a baseball cap, Sam can’t be bothered with questions of mortality or life’s meaning. But the important things come into focus over the course of repeated sequences that Russo-Young stages with swiftness, verve and a bumpin’ soundtrack.
Aided by an attractive backdrop and production design, as well as a sympathetic performance from Deutch and Miller’s disarming portrayal of unrequited devotion, “Before I Fall” checks all the boxes as an entertaining, if perhaps painfully obvious, tutorial in why, as one minor but pivotal character says, “High school is just a blip.” (A recurring motif involving Sisyphus at least boasts a witty tagline, albeit one that loses its zip over repeated deliveries.)
If parents may find themselves unnerved by the carefree tossing of condoms and sex advice over cafeteria lunches, “Before I Fall” doesn’t dispense with authority figures entirely. Still, this is a movie squarely directed at adolescents in all their untamed desire, outsize emotion and near-bottomless self-obsession. The filmmakers have crafted a canny delivery system for their life lessons, by way of a movie that balances escapism, candor and ethics with admirable aplomb.
‘Before I Fall’
Rated PG-13. Time: 1:39.