Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sundance ’17: Before I Fall

Popular teenager Samantha Kingston has one day to grow up and become a decent person. Ordinarily, that would not be nearly enough time, but this is a Groundhog kind of day. It usually ends with her and her friends dying in a car wreck, but it turns out she has even more profoundly bad karma to level in Ry Russo-Young’s Before I Fall (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Kingston and her three BFFs know they are “mean girls” and they embrace it. Their queen bee Lindsay Edgecomb is by far the meanest of the pack. Ally Harris is the brainy one (by their standards) and Elody is the ditzy one. Kingston would probably be best described as the passive one, up until this fateful day. It is Cupid’s Day (the PC variation on Valentine’s Day), which is a big deal at their school. To perversely emphasize popularity, the school has institutionalized a rose delivery ritual. Kingston and her mates will be showered with roses, but not Juliet Sykes, their favorite bullying target.

After horribly humiliating Sykes at a kegger thrown by Kent McFuller, Kingston’s not so secret nice guy admirer, the fab four drive off into a fatal accident, at which point the day restarts for Kingston. Initially, Kingston assumes she can break the cycle if she can prevent the accident, but after another Cupid Day goes by, she realizes she will have to save Sykes too.

In fact, screenwriter Maria Maggenti’s adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s YA novel goes through many iterations of the momentous day, but each one covers very different narrative (and even thematic) terrain. It might be cheesy and manipulative, but it never drags. Despite Kingston’s necessary introspective self-examination, Russo-Young keeps the pace snappy and includes some subtle, unforced echoes from previous go-rounds.

Believe it or not, the ridiculously attractive young ensemble also demonstrates some impressive dramatic chops. Zoey Deutch takes a star-making turn as Kingston. She shows considerable range and holds up to the pressure of carrying the film—in each and every scene. Cynthy Wu and Medalion Rahimi add some surprisingly offbeat charm as Ally and Elody, respectively, while Logan Miller’s McFuller develops some surprisingly touching chemistry with Deutch. However, young Erica Tremblay as Izzy, the young sister Kingston is nearly too late to appreciate, steals every scene she appears in.

Nobody could deny Fall gets massively sentimental and schmaltzy. By the same token, credit must be given for how effectively it unfolds. It is probably the guilty pleasure at this year’s festival.  Recommended for its target audience of young adult girls, Before I Fall screens again this Friday (1/27) at Sundance Mountain Resort and Saturday (1/28) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance.