Halston Sage, left, and Zoey Deutch star in “Before I Fall,” a rare teen movie with depth. (Courtesy Open Road Films)

‘Before I Fall’ focuses on bonds between girls

“Before I Fall” is a young adult thriller that goes far beyond the surface.

Too often teen girls are depicted on screen as obsessed with appearances and the happy-go-lucky lifestyle enabled by parental disposable income. But in “Before I Fall,” popularity contests are plagued by truly existential conundrums, with elevated stakes exacerbated by the fleeting nature of youth, and questions about the nature of life go hand in hand with the tricky maneuvering of high school politics.

There’s a supernatural-ish twist that kicks off all of the questioning.

“Before I Fall” borrows a premise from “Groundhog Day,” in that protagonist Samantha (Zoey Deutch) must relive the same Friday, over and over, preceding a dangerous car crash.

To make matters worse, it’s Valentine’s Day, and the high school celebrates with rose deliveries that literally account for every student’s popularity points.

Sam starts off as a carefree queen bee, ensconced in a tight foursome of popular girls, with closely held allies and enemies.

However, forced to relive the day over and over, which resets at the moment of the crash every time, she zeroes in on the side characters, the nerds and the bullied, and the small interactions that lead toward the inevitable, trying to change things and stop the loop.

Adapted by Maria Maggenti from Lauren Oliver’s novel, “Before I Fall” is an anomaly in that it focuses on the deeply intimate friendships between teenage girls. Boyfriends are present, but not as important as the bonds between girls.

Director Ry Russo-Young puts the Pacific Northwest setting to work in casting an ethereal spell. Overcast skies evoke a ghostly pallor, and there’s a moody otherworldliness that’s spooky and reflective.

As Sam, Deutch is supported Halston Sage as mean girl Lindsay, Logan Miller as longtime pal Kent, and Medalion Rahimi and Cynthy Wu as the rest of her clique.

But this is Deutch’s film _ she carries the emotional journey on her back, as Sam is the only one who knows she’s in a doomed time loop.

In the course of living our lives, we can’t go back and re-do a terrible high school party, or a moment where we wish we had extended a kindness. Sam is able to do that, and as she makes another circle around the track, she learns something every time.

“Before I Fall” is reminder of how growth, change and breaking with norms can bring us to our truest selves.

– Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service

Before I Fall
Three stars
Starring: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Jennifer Beals, Logan Miller, Medalion Rahimi, Cynthy Wu
Written by: Maria Maggenti
Directed by: Ry Russo-Young
Rated PG-13
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

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