Sunday, 26 March 2017

Movie Review: Before I Fall (2017)



It seems that films about time travel, and in particular films involving time loops, are continuing to grow popular. While my affinity for sci-fi should make me glad that such a staple of the genre is gaining ground, I am held back by the simple fact that there are just far too many of them. Looper, About Time, Edge Of Tomorrow, Predestination, ARQ, Doctor Strange to a lesser extent, even previous adolescent-centric films like Project Almanac; all in the space of five years. Yeah, I actually quite like most of these titles but the basic formula that is at large between them is now starting to get stale. Variety keeps the world interesting and unless we find a good third-party premise that can exist beyond both this and the standard superhero suspension of disbelief, it seems that we aren’t likely to get any. Will today’s film at least keep things interesting or will the seams start showing? This is Before I Fall.

The plot: High schooler Samantha (Zoey Deutch), on the way home from a house party, gets into a car crash with her three best friends Lindsay (Halston Sage), Ally (Cynthy Wu) and Elody (Medalion Rahimi). She then wakes up in her bed at the start of the day. She is stuck in a time loop, reliving her last day over and over again. As she tries to discover the reason why, and attempting to change events, she discovers secrets about the people around her that change everything that she thought she knew.

The cast is made of lame. Deutch may be in a relatively better production than last time we checked in on her but she ultimately serves as little more than an avatar for the emotions/themes that the film wants to express through her. Wu and Rahimi somehow have even less of a presence than our lead, Sage just makes us wish that she would take a long Valley Girl strut off of a short pier and Sam’s mother played by Miss Flashdance herself Jennifer Beals is rather underutilized, given how she is probably the most experienced actor here. Kian Lawley and Logan Miller as the duelling love interests embody the entire film’s approach to liking blandness as a respite from sheer dickery and Elena Kampouris in a pivotal role as Juliet has some real energy in her performance but, once again, is let down by the cardboard she is told to give life.

With everything I laid out in the opening, how does this film give a new spin on the time loop narrative? By doing little to nothing with it. This has got to be the most milquetoast attempt at this brand of story I’ve seen because it seems like no-one involved actually realized the potential it has. Said potential has likely been shared around by other works of fiction, but it still seems to elude this film. All we get is a gradual piecing together of the overall plot with each reset, without anything all that compelling to make us want to see the full picture.

That probably has something to do with the fact that this film can get quite vomit-inducing when it tries to aim for universal platitudes about life and choice. The utter cheese oozing out of a hefty amount of the dialogue here is quite astounding, made worse by how we are meant to be taking all of this dead seriously. There’s an exchange between Samantha and her mother where Samantha asks what makes her a good person. Her mother then recounts a story about them going horse-riding and how Sam rode every horse in the stable just so that none of them would feel left out. Gag me with a goddamn shovel. Of course, this leads into the other serious issue with the dialogue: About 3/4ths of the conversations in this film consist of exposition about the childhoods/pasts in general of the characters talking. Even without reading the source material, it’s painfully clear that the translation from book to film didn’t turn out so good. What makes this weirder is that, aside from overusing the Twilight-patented blue tint and a couple moments of jarring brightness, this holds up visually. These filmmakers know how to tell a story visually, so why do they insist on having it told to us?

So, the plot is rail-thin and the attempts at profundity are overly saccharine; what about the characters? Well, we really don’t have any here. Sam is our focal point character, which is interpreted here as just being a shell that fulfills the emotions the film requires of her at any given moment, resulting in some scenes that heavily clash with each other like the out-of-nowhere sex scene. As for everyone else, part of the ridiculously expository dialogue includes flat-out explaining character traits that are in no way evident outside of said explanations. The closest we get to an actual character is Lindsay, who is just a straight-up cunt and, no, half-hearted backstory revelations don’t change that. I really find it hard to feel sorry for someone who shows pride in inadvertently splitting up a lesbian couple because they “deserved it”. For the second time in a row, I’m dealing with a film that, rather than fully admit how horrible its characters are, tries to excuse it without really creating sympathy in the process. Hell, the moment when Sam finally calls out her so-called friends for the shit they do? That’s framed as a bad thing and exists only in a single loop. I always thought that making the most out of every day would have included cutting out bad people somewhere, but apparently not.

All in all, the only thing keeping me from calling this an absolute failure to adapt a work of literature is because, not that long ago, we had a film that was even worse in that regard. But make no mistake: This film sucks. Weak actors are paraded in front of the camera to spout out dialogue that ranges from the needlessly expository to the hilariously pretentious, all wrapped around a story that makes little to no effort in utilizing the potential of that story. If this genre trope continues to find ground, we can at least rest easy knowing that it’s unlikely that we’ll get anything as underwhelming as this again. We can only hope. It’s worse than Ballerina, which may be likewise unengaging but at least that film showed actual effort in its animation. Here, the thick haze of apathy fails to connect in any sort of meaningful way. However, for as self-important as this film desperately tries to be in spurts, it still doesn’t ring as hollow or as try-hard as xXx: Return Of Xander Cage.

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