Ry Russo-Young’s Before I Fall, an adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s 2010 young-adult novel of the same name, filches not just Groundhog Day’s narrative structure, but also its main dramatic arc and various plot points, chronicling a selfish character’s embrace of empathy as she relives the same terrible day over and over again. It’s so blatant a rip-off of Harold Ramis’s film that it isn’t difficult to guess within the first 15 minutes the final destination of Before I Fall’s main character, as well as the path that takes her there.
It hardly matters that this film is set in a Pacific Northwest high school instead of a small Pennsylvania town, or that Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) is a popular teenage girl and not a grumpy middle-aged weatherman. Samantha is a marvel of self-absorption like Bill Murray’s Phil Connors, showing little concern for anyone besides the members of her mean-girl foursome or for anything but the prospect of losing her virginity to the most popular boy in school, Rob (Kian Lawley). Most importantly, she and her posse shower outsiders like long-haired, eccentric Juliet Sykes (Elena Kampouris) with the kind of withering contempt that Phil lavished on Punxsutawney’s residents.
The similarities between the two films hardly end, though, once Samantha, upon waking up in her bed after she and her friends get into a car accident, realizes the endless loop she’s now trapped in. Though Samantha never goes so far as to attempt suicide, as Phil does in Groundhog Day, she does reach a nihilistic point on one particular iteration of her day that leads her to say whatever’s on her mind, especially to her friend Lindsay (Halston Sage), who she calls out for her shallowness and narcissism while apparently not realizing how much she’s really castigating herself for those same qualities. The filmmakers are so flagrant in their homage that even the bar conversation that leads Phil on his path to personal change in Ramis’s film is basically repeated here between Samantha and Anna (Liv Hewson) inside a bathroom, with Anna saying that Samantha’s description of a life in which everything is the same and nothing matters fits her own to a T.
From there, Before I Fall plays out as expected, with Samantha realizing the goodness she suppressed to become popular. And yet, she’s less empathetic than self-righteous by film’s end, coming off as holier than thou in flaunting her moral superiority to her friends. (If she exhibits more dimensionality than the teen-movie stereotypes that surround her and exist only to enable her path toward atonement, it’s only because the film’s formula demands that she do so.) Groundhog Day certainly never had to strain this hard to be profound. All Before I Fall has to show for its efforts, in addition to heavy-handed invocations of the Sisyphus myth and the butterfly effect, are tired platitudes about the value of altruism and living each day as it if were the last.