There's a reason Zoey Deutch is often "the girl" in comedies. Her face expresses multitudes, and the funny guys need a woman with priceless reactions to sell their punch lines. But in Ry Russo-Young's light sci-fi teen drama Before I Fall, Deutch plays Samantha Kingston, a girl full of thoughts and wonder who learns the meaning of life by reliving the same fateful 24 hours over and over again. Deutch owes no one a reaction here; everything Samantha does is to fulfill her own promise. And if that premise sounds morally didactic, too neat, it is a little. But Russo-Young gives this teen parable the thriller treatment to ward off any cheese, and watching Deutch learn her lesson with that expressive face of hers is a singular, moving experience
To her friends, high-schooler Sam's the sweet one -- Lindsay (Halston Sage) is the queen bee, Ally (Cynthy Wu) the creative thinker, Elody (Medalion Rahimi) the party girl. In the early moments of naiveté, Deutch's eyes glance downward, like Sam can't bear to meet anyone's gaze. Over one day day, Sam makes many little mistakes: She ignores nice guy Kent (Logan Miller); she encourages her friends as they taunt the school freak, Juliet (Elena Kampouris). The night culminates with a raucous party at Kent's house, capped by a terrible car crash.
If you've seen Groundhog Day, you know how the story goes from here. The familiar premise is freshened by writer Maria Maggenti's thoughtful framing of Sam. She's floating along without any comprehension that her actions contribute to the detriment or well-being of others -- and she learns to fight and to exude love.