PARK CITY, Utah – “Before I Fall” begins by telling the audience that you’re watching the last day of its heroine’s life. Yes, 17-year-old Samantha (Zoey Deutch) is about to die. You don’t know when, or where, or how it’ll happen, but after it does, she wakes up again in her bed, sweaty and disoriented, to find that she has to live that same day over again. And again. And again.
It’s no wonder that the film, which debuts Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival in advance of its March 3 theatrical release, is being described as a teenage “Groundhog Day.” Director Ry Russo-Young’s film, adapted from Lauren Oliver’s novel of the same name, is more thriller than existential comedy, but the big themes remain similar. How could they not? Both explore the nature of how we use our time on earth.
“The recurring day construct was really rich and fertile, both emotionally and psychologically and actually philosophically as well,” said Russo-Young. “Sam’s journey was one I could really use to ask those deeper questions about what it is to be human and how we live our lives. I thought that was really intense and that we should all be asking ourselves those questions no matter what age we are.”
In “Before I Fall,” Sam is a popular member of a group of beautiful but vicious girls (including Halston Sage, Medalion Rahimi and Cynthy Wu) who mercilessly taunt their frizzy-haired peer, talk endlessly about their own status in the school (as reflected by how many roses they get on “Cupid Day”), and selfie and party and tease as though this moment will never end. In other words, there’s a lot of room for growth.
“It reminded me of my own experiences being a teenage girl and my peer relationships — the authenticity of those girl friendships and the intensity of them. Love one day and hate the next,” Russo-Young said.
She was excited, too, to be directing a teenage girl movie as a woman, noting how many of the classic teen pics about girls have been directed by men, including “Pretty in Pink” and all the John Hughes fare, “Mean Girls” and “Easy A.” Her own personal experiences, and that of the author and the screenwriter and the cast helped add an authenticity to this story of female friendships and life because they’ve all “lived it in some shape or form.”
Open Road Films acquired the distribution rights to the film shortly after they finished the movie, making it one of the rare Sundance features that audiences will definitely be able to see. In the case of “Before I Fall,” it’s coming up quickly too. Russo-Young says Open Road plans to release it on over 2,000 screens on March 3.
“I hope it finds its audience,” she said. “It’s the kind of movie I wish had been around when I was a young woman. It’s the kind of movie I wanted to see.”