The basic premise of Before I Fall feels like it was created by a roomful of cynical studio executives trying to create a successful project. The end result, however, while it isn't without issues, also isn't without charm.
Before I Fall is essentially Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls, but as a YA drama rather than a comedy. One assumes this was literally the pitch made to somebody in an elevator at the studio. Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) is one of four girls that makes up the popular clique at school. She wakes up on February 12, Cupid Day at her high school, ready to see how many of the boys bought her roses and ready to sleep with her boyfriend for the first time that night. Unfortunately, the day doesn't go quite as planned. Following an altercation with the school's resident "psycho girl," Sam and her friends leave a party early, which leads them to be involved in a serious auto accident. Sam is apparently killed in the crash, but rather than die, Sam wakes up in her own bed. It's the morning for February 12 once again, and while the young girl fully remembers living this day already, she's fated to do so again, and again, and again.
Whatever Sam does to change the events of that day, she still gets the same result. Avoiding the accident prevents her death, but doesn't prevent her from waking up in her own bed on February 12 once again. Of course, by changing her own actions she does have an impact on the events of that particular cycle, meaning that she begins to gain new information. She understands her friends, as well as her enemies, a bit better. She learns why her best friend Lindsey (Halston Sage) is such a grade-A ass and she begins to reconnect with class nerd Kent (Logan Miller) with whom she had once been close before she began the track to popularity. She also begins to ask a question one thinks she would have asked previously, why exactly is everybody so mean to "psycho" Juliet (Elena Kampouris), a girl who looks so much like Sissy Spacek in Carrie that I fully expected the house to catch fire when everybody starts throwing beer on her, presumably because they were fresh out of pig blood.
As in the aforementioned Groundhog Day, the magic which causes Sam to repeat the same day is never explained and while that can be overlooked in a comedy, here it honestly could have used some details. While our main character's actions, or lack thereof, can make small changes on the day, the major events go on without her, even when it seems like those events should be significantly impacted when certain inciting incidents do not occur. The movie seems to only want to fill these plot holes with "because magic" which is a cheat that's unsatisfying. When Sam ultimately figures out "what she's supposed to do" to end the cycle, it feels like she knows this simply because the script said so, not because anything about the situation made it clear.
Also, while you can probably already guess where the story ends up based on this description, if you're even slightly off the mark, don't worry because the movie telegraphs where it's going hard before it gets there, which robs the moment of much of the emotional impact it had left.
All that being said, If I Fall is not without its successes. First and foremost, Zoey Deutch does a fantastic job in her lead role. As Sam relives the same day over and over again, other characters go through the same motions repeatedly, but she, of course, goes through significant changes and Deutch handles each of them well. She plays "rebellious" as well as she plays "perfect" and when her facade starts to crack and she begins to embrace her friends and family a bit more, the warmth feels equally genuine. While Sam feels paper thin at the start of the film, she slowly matures into somebody worth caring about, which is, ultimately, the point.
There are some significant flaws in Before I Fall that, in the end, keep it from being something special. However, there's nothing wrong with the message it wants to convey. It's maybe worth seeing once, but you won't be coming back to it over and over again.