Film Review: Before I Fall (dir by Ry Russo-Young)

One of my favorite films of 2017 was Before I Fall, which was kind of a combination of Mean Girls, Groudhog Day, and Happy Death Day.  Two years later, it remains one of my favorite movies, even if I do end up crying whenever I watch it.

The film begins with an ordinary teenager named Samantha Kingston (Zooey Deutsch) waking up on February 12th.  We follow her throughout her day and watch her deal with family, friends, teachers, and all the drama that goes along with all of that.  We meet her boyfriend, Rob (Kian Lawley) and we automatically know that she needs to dump his jock ass.  (Whenever we hear him glibly say, “Love ya,” it’s like nails on a chalkboard.)  We all know that Sam should be with Kent (Logan Miller), who is sweet and sensitive and gives her a white rose for Cupid’s Day.  We also meet and get to know her friends, Allie (Cynthia Wu), Elody (Medalion Rahimi), and especially Lindsay (Halston Sage).  While being a close friend to Sam, Lindsay is still the stereotypical popular, mean girl, the one who decides who is accepted and who is destined to forever to be an outsider.  Sam, on the other hand, is not a mean girl (or, at the very least, she’s a not-as-mean girl).  Instead, she’s the girl who simply goes along with what everyone else is doing.  She may not instigate any bullying but she doesn’t do anything to stop it either.

February 12th was the night that Sam had been planning on losing her virginity to Rob but Rob pretty much ruins that by getting drunk and acting like an asshole.  Instead, at a party at Kent’s house, Sam watches as Lindsay humiliates an outsider named Juliet (Elena Kampouris).  After leaving the party, Sam, Lindsay, Elody, and Allie drive down a dark road.  They listen to music.  They talk about how stupid everyone at the party was.  And, eventually, the car crashes and….

Suddenly, Sam’s waking up in her bedroom!  And it’s February 12th all over again!  That’s right, Sam is in a time loop, destined to continually relive the final day of her life until she makes things right.  In the 2010 novel that this film is based on, author Lindsay Olivier makes it pretty clear that each time Sam relives her day, she’s going through another stage of grief, moving from denial to acceptance.  While the film doesn’t make that point quite as clearly as the book, it does do a good job of showing us how, each time that Sam is forced to relive that day, she comes out of it as a changed person.  She discovers that Rob wasn’t worthy of her love and that Kent was.  She discovers that her family wasn’t as terrible as she assumed.  And, perhaps most importantly, she learns that being a friend does not mean excusing casual cruelty.

Watching Before I Fall is always an emotional experience for me.  A lot of it is because I can relate to Sam.  In many ways, back in high school, I was Sam.  But, even beyond that, the theme of Before I Fall is universal.  It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your background may be.  It doesn’t matter if you were popular in high school or if you were one of the outsiders.  Everyone — every single one of us — has done something that they regret.  All of us have one day that we wish we could travel back to and do things differently.

Well-directed by Ry Russo-Young and featuring a lot of beautiful Canadian scenery (the film was shot in British Columbia and Vancouver), Before I Fall is a poignant and touching film.  Zooey Deutch, Halston Sage, Cynthia Wu, and Medalion Rahimi are all believable as longtime friends and, to the film’s credit, no one — not even Lindsay — can be reduced to a mere stereotype.  Before I Fall is a film about regret, denial, anger, acceptance, and finally, peace.  No wonder it makes me cry.

Back to School Part II #56: Everybody Wants Some!! (dir by Richard Linklater)

(For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of today, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horrorthon!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)


Well, here we are!  It’s taken nearly four weeks but we have reached the conclusion of Back to School Part II!  I started this series by taking a look at Teenage Devil Dolls.  Along the way, I’ve reviewed everything from Andy Warhol’s Vinyl, A Clockwork Orange, Animal House, and Can’t Hardly Wait to Hollywood High and Keith.  I’ve even found an excuse to review four different Degrassi films!  I’ve had a lot of fun but, with October approaching, I’m happy to be finishing up this series of reviews so that I can concentrate on the TSL’s annual horrorthon!

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!

Everbody Wants Some!! generated a small flurry of excitement when it was first released back in March.  Not only was it Linklater’s first narrative film since the critically acclaimed Boyhood but it was also advertised as being a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused.  Like Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! was a period piece that would follow an ensemble of Texas teenagers over the course of one long weekend, the big difference being that Everybody Wants Some!! would take place in 1980 (as opposed to 1976) and it would deal with college freshmen (instead of high school juniors).  There were even a few articles that pointed out that several of the actors in Everybody Wants Some!! physically resembled some of the actors in Dazed and Confused.

(Seriously, Glen Powell looks like he could be Matthew McConaughey’s younger brother.)

The film was well-reviewed by critics, even though few of the reviews were as rapturous as the reviews that greeted previous Linklater films like Boyhood and Before Midnight.  As for the audience reaction … well, Everybody Wants Some!! was not exactly embraced by audiences.  I saw it at the Alamo Drafthouse and the theater was nearly deserted.  (Considering that the Alamo’s audience prides itself on embracing independent film, a near-empty theater for a showing of a Linklater film is not a good sign.)  The few people in the theater seemed to feel that the film went on for too long and that it needed a stronger plot.  That’s a complaint that I’ve heard a lot of people make against Everybody Wants Some!!

It’s not a complaint that I agree with.  Those who complained that Everybody Wants Some!! was essentially plotless obviously haven’t seen many Richard Linklater films.  Though Linklater has made his share of commercial films, his more personal work — like Everybody Wants Some!! — is often plotless.  That’s actually one the keys to Linklater’s aesthetic.  He’s more interested in recreating a specific time and place and observing how different characters react to their environment than he is in telling conventional stories.  A film like Everybody Wants Some!! is less about telling a story with a definite beginning and end and more about capturing a very specific experience.

And, on that level, the film definitely succeeds.  Watching Everybody Wants Some!!, you literally do feel as if you’ve stepped into a time machine and you’ve been transported to the past.  Jake (Blake Jenner), a college freshman who is attending fictional Southeast Texas College on a scholarship, may be the main character but, ultimately, he’s not that important.  More important is seeing how people lived, interacted, and thought in 1980.  Everybody Wants Some!! is a time capsule film.

(Apparently, it’s a bit of an autobiographical film as well.  Cinema snobs like me tend to forget that, before he became a filmmaker, Linklater was a jock who, like Jake, attended college on a baseball scholarship.  As much as we may not want to admit it, not all artistic geniuses spent high school writing angsty poetry about eating disorders.  Some of them played sports.)

Everybody Wants Some!! follows Jake and his fellow baseball players over the course of the weekend before classes begin.  One night, they end up in a redneck bar.  Another night, they end up at a punk club.  They go to a drama department party.  They practice baseball.  They all drink.  Some of them smoke weed.  Some of them get laid.  And, at the end of the weekend, two of them sit down in their first class of the semester and promptly fall asleep.

One problem that I did have with Everybody Wants Some!! is that, as good as job as it does of creating a time and place, it didn’t necessarily convince me that it was a time in which I would want to live in.  As I stated earlier, Everybody Wants Some!! was promoted as being a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused.  However, Dazed and Confused featured a greater variety of characters.  Practically everyone of note in Everybody Wants Some!! is a member of the school’s baseball team.  True, some of them are smarter than others.  Some of them smoke weed.  Some of them are ultra religious.  But, ultimately, they’re all jocks and they’re all frat boys.  How much you enjoy hanging out with these characters will depend on how much tolerance you have for jocks, frat boys, and their hyper-masculine rituals.  Whenever I’ve seen Dazed and Confused, I’ve thought to myself that if I had been alive and in high school in 1976, I would have wanted to be friends with at least a few of the characters.  On the other hand, if I had been alive and in college in 1980, I would have gone out of my way to avoid that baseball team.

(And, as a result, I probably would have missed a chance to meet Richard Linklater!  There’s a lesson to be learned there.)

Ultimately, though, Everybody Wants Some!! succeeds because, even if the characters aren’t particularly likable, the film itself does capture the feeling and the excitement of having your entire future ahead of you.  Admittedly, there’s a hint of melancholy running through the film.  One character is revealed to be a 30-something imposter who regularly uses a false identity to enroll in different colleges because he loves to play baseball but he knows that he’ll never succeed in the major leagues.  Throughout the film, there are hints that none of these baseball players are ever going to be as successful as they are during that one particular weekend.  But, ultimately, the film tells us that the future doesn’t matter.  What matters is that, for that one weekend, they had their entire future ahead of them and it seemed like anything was possible.

Everybody Wants Some!! may not be Linklater’s best but it definitely deserves to be seen!

(And that concludes Back to School!  Thank you everyone for reading!  Love you!)