The Bar Fly
Before I Fall and Looping Through She’s All That
By: Bill Arcenaux (Three Beers) –
Back when She’s All That graced movie screens, back in my more formative years, I related heavily to actor Freddie Prinze Jr. We didn’t look alike or portray personalities at all similar to one another, but DID have: a real love for pro wrestling and curious thoughts on time. Thoughts that were both silly and wise beyond our years. In She’s All That, Freddie plays a popular jock type, stuck in a clique he’s growing disillusioned with. When introduced to him, opening music still playing, he “impresses” his “friends” with a speech on his theory about the very structure of time. To sum it up, there is no present.
Freddie’s fellow populars look in awe, as if a major discovery had just been unlocked before their ears. But the awe is short lived and shallow; they either don’t understand what he just said or don’t care. To sum it up, they’re only his friends because he’s a high school star. While not articulated in the best of ways, his speech on time theory was really, subtextually anyways, about living in the moment and fear of growing up. Two things his character begins to wrestle with in the film by meeting the shy, artsy girl.
I recall this moment from She’s All That with regards to my thoughts on the recent Before I Fall, more for the differences than similarities, though, in that scene, they are alike. SAT was quite influential and iconic in its period, and many of my fellow students spent money on tickets (myself included). I can’t say if BIF will lead itself to cult or even guilty pleasure status, but quality-wise, it embraces and eschews many of the sticky tropes and themes that hindered high school flicks of my generation, only to have them heightened here. In a way, Before I Fall really is “all that”. All of that. That including everything, good and bad.
That’s So Fetch!
If you’ve been reading the movie review dirt sheets (as I do), you’ll probably found many instances of Before I Fall being compared to the great Groundhog Day – a most decisively NON high school movie, no matter its accessibility. In BIF, the maybe senior but possibly sophomore Samantha (long for Sam), one of a four girl group of trendsetting populars, experiences what could be her last day on Earth, stuck on repeat. It starts with a car crash, begins again with her in bed, and shuffles through multiple options before figuring out her eventual destiny. In this way, through observation and repetition, she learns who she is, who her friends are, and what she ought to do to become a better person.
This sounds exactly like Groundhog Day, especially as both characters go through changes once they reach the point of no longer caring if the day will ever turn to the next. In fact, you could argue that there is a sappy young adult faith edge to this story. Sap, yes. Faith, no. BIF is careful enough to be vague enough about the circumstances of Sam’s existential quest, but not cautious enough to avoid the trappings of melodramatic schmaltz. And, for a cast made up of youngsters, acting melodramatically, while up their alley, can be a trial for audiences. Thankfully, Director Ry-Russo Young understands this dilemma, and never pushes her cast beyond what they can’t handle. There are some silly lines here and there – including a real humdinger at the very end – but, as I told myself, this IS high school. Emotions run high while articulation and thought runs low. For Sam, figuring this out is a shock to the system.
Ultimately, this could be considered THE high school picture of the most recent decade. BIF never looks down at its youthful characters, showing them as naive, troubled, inquisitive, and loving as they can be, scars and lip gloss all. It identifies well with them – probably due to Ry-Russo’s own experiences playing a part (a speculation) – while never quite achieving Breakfast Club levels of archetypal representation, focusing more on popular vs awkward and shy. This dynamic is exhibited to a fault, reminding one of the less complex but very brutal caste system that exists on the road to college. And, for that, Before I Fall is a master of its craft, building bridges and tearing down walls. So to speak, of course
Just a Blip
She’s All That’s momentary exploration into the concept of spacetime, while humorous, does show off a sweet mind and a heavily thoughtful soul. It suggests that, while empty from popularity (a word I’ve been hesitating to use as much as I have in this article), these characters are still people beyond their place in the caste. They have their own wants, desires, and dreams. They all do. This fact is expanded and explored rather insightfully in Before I Fall, through the girl Sam, who once was the more innocent and open-hearted type. As she grew up, appearances and priorities changed, altering what was perceived by her to be good or bad. Maybe glam or trash? Do the kids speak this way?
Despite its dive into a theme of across the board kindness, the context and method of getting to it may be a bit backwards and backhanded. BIF’s journey starts from a place of unintentional ignorance, brought upon by a social structure most severe. With a movie set in modern times, where information and experiences are shared so easily, you’d think that empathy would be easy to be had and applied. Then again, we know this is easier typed than understood. And, after all, we are talking about high school. No matter the access to materials of learning, no matter the world surrounding, kids will be kids, cruel and unforgiving just as much as they can be smart and friendly. This is a scary notion that applies not just to the unstable nature of teenagers, but to the unstable nature of adults and all of humanity. Are high school films the best place to explore the human condition? Maybe not the best, but why not try?
In the end, high school matters and doesn’t all at once. As one character in BIF says, “This is just a blip.” Indeed, but it should be noted how often we remember our days as a teen. It should be understood that these years are rather important to our development as grown ups, instilling confidence and esteem that may last for decades. Or the lack thereof, even. She’s All That and Before I Fall, two vastly different kinds of film; both suggest, at the very least, that we should strive to change and live moment to moment. At their worst, they are time fillers and tear jerkers. At their best, they pause us for a time of reflection, back and forwards. Both movies will go down for their romance and concept recycling respectively, but ought to be looked at more thoroughly and with strong eyes. Before I Fall, despite and in spite of its sap-filled follies, represents the spectrum of high school lifestyles, with emotions pushed to the brink and beyond. It is not merely “a blip”.