Warning: This post contains spoilers! Proceed at your own risk!
It’s been so long since Before I Fall got optioned, I almost forgot to be excited about it. But given the place this book holds in my heart, I went into the theater (wine in hand, obvs) prepared to be devastated by the heartbreaking story… or by a terrible adaptation.
Y’all, I am relieved to report that all of my tears stemmed from the former, not the latter.
While it would be impossible to harness the full emotional power or complexity of the book, I gotta say, the movie does a pretty bang-up job capturing many of the things I loved about Before I Fall: the surprisingly real friendship between “mean girls,” the sweet tenderness of Kent, the searing pain of adolescence, the joy of forgiveness.
Much of that is due to the script, which lifts dialogue straight from the book, but a fair amount of credit is due to the casting. This ain’t no Disney Channel movie–the acting is subtle and layered, and the moments, especially those shared by Samantha and her friends, sparkle with authenticity.
Though I wish film Samantha had matched book Samantha in all of her initial awfulness (I mean, you’re not supposed to like her at the beginning!), Zoey Deutch skillfully portrays her character’s confusion and awakening and eventual transformation with both a winning vulnerability and steely resolve. Halston Sage, who plays queen bee Lindsay, is a stand-out; she emanates a calm but deadly fierceness while looking so gorgeous and being so charming, you know you’d fall under her spell in a heartbeat.
But my favorite, of course, OF COURSE, is Logan Miller as Kent, Sam’s dorky childhood friend. KENT!!!! Movie Kent is not as eccentric as book Kent, but I think that was the right choice, given the limited amount of time the movie had to develop both his past and his current relationship with Samantha. The audience had to immediately love him, and that probably wasn’t going to happen with a bowler hat on his head. Instead, Miller’s Kent is a warmly confident sort of weirdo, a kind and steadfast soul with a voice that somehow gets sexier as time passes. (Let’s just say that I am VERY glad a certain scene is pretty much copied word for word from the book.)
The only aspect of the film that fell flat for me was the one-dimensional nature of Juliet Sykes. Elena Kampouris did a fine job, but the way she was styled was almost cartoonish, and her motivation, particularly in coming to the party, felt vague rather than piercing as it did in the book.
I also felt like the movie didn’t quite stick the landing of Sam’s “final” death. Before the audience has a chance to really absorb the impact, the film immediately switches gears with a slightly saccharine montage of Samantha’s life. I wanted a minute to process, to grieve even, and instead I felt like the film was trying to force an almost happy resolution on me. “See? It’s not sad! She got a chance to figure out what was important! It’s totally okay that she’s dead.” MOVIE, I AM ALLOWED TO CRY. LET ME CRY.
I should also mention that Sam’s parents are played by Jennifer Beals (as in, Flashdance!!) and Nicholas Lea (whom X-Philes will recognize as Krycek, WHAT) and yeah, that is awesome.
In an age when lots of YA adaptations turn out to be complete garbage (you know what movies I’m talking about, so no need to get specific and say The Fifth Wave or Allegiant), it’s a gift to see a beloved story be given such respectful treatment on the big screen. I am very thankful that Before I Fall did the book justice, and while it doesn’t outshine its source material (what movie can?), it does something almost as good: it inspires you to revisit the novel or, even better, read it for the first time.
Did you see it? Hit me up with your opinions in the comments and feel free to disagree, agree or simply join me in Kent Lovefest 2017.