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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Before I Fall is based on Lauren Oliver's best-selling young-adult novel about 17-year-old Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch), who, after a seemingly fatal car accident, wakes up to live the same Friday over and over again. The movie, like the book, has plenty of iffy teen behavior, including partying, sex, verbal and physical bullying, and lying. On some of the repeated days, there's stronger language (including one use of "f--king hell," plus the occasional "b-tch" and "s--t") and more sexual behavior (there's one sex scene, and Sam even propositions a teacher one day) than others. But the day always ends in a party with underage drinking and either a careless-driving-related accident or suicide. In the end, though, the movie poses questions about how teens want to be remembered and has messages about the importance of second chances, the role of empathy, and the value of redemption, courage, and communication.
What's the story?
Based on Lauren Oliver's best-selling 2010 young-adult novel, BEFORE I FALL follows 17-year-old Samantha "Sam" Kingston (Zoey Deutch). Sam seems to have it all as she heads off to school on "Cupid Day" -- the Friday before Valentine's Day, when everyone gets roses at school from friends, significant others, and secret admirers. Sam and her three best friends -- including queen bee Lindsay (Halston Sage), Elody (Medalion Rahimi), and Ally Harris (Cynthy Wu) -- plan to end their day at a keg party hosted by Kent (Logan Miller), Sam's former childhood friend. But at the party, where Sam was supposed to have sex for the first time with her boyfriend, Rob (Kian Lawley), the popular girls get into an ugly confrontation with Juliet (Elena Kampouris), the school misfit they've been bullying for years. As they leave the party, Sam and her friends get into a fatal car accident -- and, a moment later, Sam wakes up to find it's the morning of the same Friday she just lived. No matter what she does, Sam keeps repeating the same day, Groundhog Day-style ... until she figures out what her mission is and can finally move forward.
Is it any good?
This well-acted young-adult adaptation explores powerful themes about making second chances count and seeing beyond the superficial to what really matters. Deutch -- looking very similar to her mother, Lea Thompson, circa Some Kind of Wonderful -- does a fabulous job carrying the film. She appears in every scene and has to modify her mood as Sam goes through the stages of grief while dealing with the confusion, anger, and determination of repeating the same day again and again. It's particularly impressive to watch Sam see her friends and family in a new light as she approaches the day with different attitudes -- sometimes abandoning all caution and acting aggressively, other times being sweet to her parents (Jennifer Beals plays her mother) and little sister in a way she hasn't in years.
Director Ry Russo-Young captures the spirit of Oliver's book while smartly making certain aspects a bit more ambiguous. The cast members are all up to the task, particularly Miller as the kind and encouraging Kent, and Sage as ice-queen Lindsay, who knows when to let the subtlest vulnerability show. But it's ultimately Deutch's performance that makes Before I Fall so moving. Her Sam is utterly believable. It takes her a while of repeating Cupid Day to perfect it; once she does, it's a beautiful, bittersweet day.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages in Before I Fall. What are they? What can viewers learn from Sam's journey?
What does the movie have to say about bullying? Who acts like a bully throughout the movie, and who doesn't? How do characters redeem themselves?
For those familiar with the book: How does the movie compare to the novel? Is it faithful? What, if anything, did you miss? What changes did you like?
- In theaters: March 3, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: May 30, 2017
- Cast: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Jennifer Beals
- Director: Ry Russo-Young
- Studio: Open Road Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship
- Character Strengths: Communication, Courage, Empathy
- Run time: 99 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic content involving drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images, and language-all involving teens
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