It's hard to describe the new movie Before I Fall without comparing it to other things. After all, it has the same-day-on-repeat plot device of Groundhog Day, the teen girl drama of Pretty Little Liars, and the biting wit of The Edge of Seventeen. Yet while the film certainly does feel familiar in parts, it actually stands apart from its peers — and Hollywood in general — for one big reason: Before I Fall gets the complex, messy, hard-to-explain dynamic of teen girl friendships better than any other movie in years.
Based on the bestselling YA novel by Lauren Oliver, the Ry Russo-Young-directed Before I Fall follows Sam (Zoey Deutch), a high school senior who finds herself reliving the same day over and over after a devastating car crash. Sam is charming, and cool, but she is, primarily, a follower; she lets her Regina George-esque best friend, Lindsay (Halston Sage) dictate her every move, along with those of the other members of their tight-knit squad. Together, the girls rule their high school, attending the best parties, dating the hottest guys, and terrorizing every student who dares follow the beat of their own drum.
In any other movie, this kind of dynamic would be full of cliche; these girls would pretend to be best friends, but secretly hate each other's guts; they'd compete over guys, and ruin each other's relationships; they'd end the movie split apart, having realized that they're all better off on their own, away from their Queen Bee.
Yet Before I Fall doesn't follow this pattern. For one thing, the girls can be mean, yes, but it's revealed that they're all dealing with their own insecurities and issues; Lindsay, for instance, uses cruelty to mask the pain she feels over her parents' messy divorce. For another, these girls may fight and have problems, but they don't hate each other or strive to ruin each other's lives. In fact, they're as loyal as it gets, always having one another's backs and frequently expressing their appreciation for the closeness of their group.
In a world where pop culture all too often portrays teen girls as catty, selfish, and competitive with one another, it's a huge deal that Before I Fall recognizes that high school girls are capable of having complex, thoughtful friendships. And the film's stars recognize this rarity. "The thing that I noticed really early on is that the romance in this film is not really the A, B, or C plotline. It takes a backseat to the female friendship component, and thank God," Deutch tells Bustle, speaking via phone. "This isn’t about a girl chasing a guy at all, and in a lot of ways, the film is a love letter to [Sam's] friends and to her family and to her sister. I so appreciated that."
Deutch's co-star Sage echoes this, saying, via phone, that the characters' friendship dynamic echoes that of her real-life pals. "I have this amazing group of girls, and I feel like we’re really moving into a new time where women want to support each other," she says. "It takes so much less energy to be nice to someone than to ostracize them or be competitive with them."
Over and over again, Before I Fall defies cliche when it comes to female friendship, and it's a refreshing change of pace from teen movies in the past. Just take a scene, midway through, when the girls discuss going to a party. It has all the making of a Mean Girls-style story, with the group chatting about the boys they'll see and the alcohol they'll drink. But when Sam expresses her disinterest in attending, they don't react with horror or make fun of her behind her back. Instead, after a bit of back-and-forth, they agree to skip the party, instead spending the night having a quiet sleepover and enjoying each other's company.
Before I Fall isn't the only recent film to show teen female friendships in a more realistic light than usual (last year's The Edge of Seventeen comes to mind), but it's by far the one that does it best. Any former teen girl who knows how intense and complicated those bonds can be will find Before I Fall a sharp — if often painfully so — reminder of what they're like. It's the rare high school movie that gets teen female friendship so, so right.