Do we need a humorless, high school version of Groundhog Day?
Before I Fall is exactly that, and it succeeds at being what it is.
I suppose the conceit holds. High school is, probably, the first time in a person’s life when every day begins to feel like the day before. That is the core of the repeat-a-day joke – it’s a fantastic take on the reality of many people’s lives. Groundhog Day addresses that head on in the scene in the bowling alley with the two drunks (“That about sums it up for me.”). Before I Fall does too in a scene in a bathroom with a lesbian. It’s the movie’s one laugh. Otherwise, the film is life-or-death serious through and through.
For high schoolers—especially high school girls—life is life or death serious in part because of hormones and in part because they are responsible for themselves with more freedom and agency than they’ve ever had in life before. Samantha, our purgatoried protagonist, is abusing her agency when the movie begins. She’s a “mean girl” in her school. She cares only about appearances, and she belittles others to bolster her social standing. Her record-skip life give her a chance to become a better person.
That isn’t the arc of Groundhog Day, by the way. Yes, Phil Conners becomes a better person because of his weird experience, but he escapes his imprisonment only when we accepts the simple goodness of the day he’s given. He finds peace
Samantha discovers the good of living for someone other than herself. That’s a good lesson to learn too.