It’s not déjà vu. You have seen this movie before. Once upon a time, it went by the name Groundhog Day and starred Bill Murray as a weatherman stuck repeating the same day over and over and over again. It had jokes. Really good ones. You have probably seen this movie again since. Three years ago, it featured Tom Cruise dying a lot. And there was that time when it was a teen sex comedy. (You probably didn’t watch it that time. Very few did.) This week, it goes by a new title, borrowed—along with its new plot, which is really just the old plot but for teenagers—from a YA novel. Before I Fall, directed by Ry Russo-Young (Nobody Walks), doesn’t have many jokes. It sure as hell doesn’t have Bill Murray. All it really does have is the answer to a question few were asking: What would Groundhog Day look like if it was about a rich, pretty, popular high-school student forced to constantly relive a fairly average day of her charmed life?
To be fair, the day does end eventfully: usually at 12:49 a.m., with Sam (Zoey Deutch) and the three other members of her cool-kid posse leaving a party, then skidding off the road into a violent car crash. Rather than regaining consciousness in a hospital—or not at all—Sam wakes up back in her own bed, to the same song, on the same day, beginning the cycle over again. This would be true misery for many kids, for whom high school is an ordeal bearable only because it must eventually end. But as teenage royalty, trusted confidant of the queen bee (Halston Sage), Sam has it pretty good. For one, she’s fabulously wealthy, judging from the posh, glass-encased modern home where she’s cosmically relocated every morning. The scenery isn’t too bad, either: While the book was set in Connecticut, the movie seems to take place in the wooded Pacific Northwest town of the Twilight series. Except instead of broody monsters, they have time loops. Oh, and imaginary holidays: Sam’s repeated day is Cupid’s Day. Not Valentine’s Day, mind you. February 12. You know, Cupid’s Day.
A smarter movie would play up an element of wish-fulfillment: For Sam, who’s at the top of her social pecking order, there might be something at least momentarily attractive about being trapped in time’s amber, rather than having to face the scary unknown of life after high school. But Before I Fall never allows its mean girl to enjoy or even misunderstand her karmic punishment; by the first reset, she’s already getting with the self-improvement program. That means realizing that maybe it’s not so nice to constantly pick on her peers, including the school’s Carrie White in training, Juliet (Elena Kampouris). It also means finally acknowledging the gentle advances of Kent (Logan Miller), who’s nursed a crush on her since they were grade-schoolers and looks like boyfriend material mostly by comparison, given that Sam’s actual beau is a cartoonish beefcake moron. One of those virtuous, devoted, unpopular-but-not-socially-inept everyboys that seem to exist only between the covers of teen-lit bestsellers, Kent thinks he’s weird because he “once wore Crocs for 365 days straight.” Much stranger than that is the collage shrine he hangs in his bedroom, complete with a centerpiece declaration of the movie’s arc: “Become who you are.”
Can someone really atone for four years of social terrorism in one day, even with multiple tries? Sam’s course corrections are what you might call short-term solutions: She compliments a gay classmate on her boots, as if that somehow makes up for the consistent campaign of cruelty waged by her entourage. Part of the reason Groundhog Day works as well as it does is that Murray’s character is a true cad; he desperately needs his supernatural attitude adjustment. More of a crony than a ringleader, Sam is just blithely inconsiderate—and Deutch, charming though she was as the theater-kid love interest of Everybody Wants Some, can’t make us care about the redemption of some secondhand bully, learning the no-shit lesson that it’s not cool to watch passively as your friends steamroll over everyone they consider beneath them. (Maybe they should have made the head tormenter the protagonist. Now she could use some circular comeuppance.) Ultimately, though, what really stinks about Before I Fall is that it zaps all the fun and humor out of its time-bending premise, leaving behind a lot of moping to randomly selected pop cues. Thankfully, breaking the movie’s loop is simple: Just don’t ever watch it again. Or at all.