When a filmmaker or a studio decides to turn one of my favorite books into a movie, I'll admit that my feelings are usually mixed. While I look forward to seeing how characters I love are cast and interpreted, scenes I've played out in my imagination projected onto a big screen, and the book itself to gain more fans thanks to the broader platform, there's some fear in there too. Just how much will be changed? For example, Before I Fall opens on Mar. 3 and is based on the novel of the same by Lauren Oliver. It's the story of a high school student named Samantha (Zoey Deutch) who is fated to live one day over and over again, like Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day. Fans of the novel may be wondering: just how different is Before We Fall from the book? Spoilers for both ahead!
Overall, the movie adaptation of Before I Fall stays loyal to the spirit of the book. It's a deep story that would inspire anyone to reflect on how they live their lives and treat the people with whom they come into contact. Because the day that Sam is forced to redo until she gets it right is the day of her death. That's true across the book and the movie — it's the crux of the plot in both.
It appears that the main alteration that the screenplay by Maria Maggenti makes to the Lauren Oliver novel is meant to increase the suspense for movie audiences. Sam's death happens at the beginning of the book. It's made clear that she dies, though she wakes to her alarm later as if someone hit the rewind button on that day. The movie holds back that information for a while, though eventually they settle into the same groove.
For Sam, that groove is one of self-improvement and increased awareness of what's going on around her. She is able to approach the same day several times, taking note of how her callousness and selfishness affects her classmates and her family. In her LA Times review of Before I Fall, April Wolfe writes, "[Sam's] not the ultimate mean girl who needs to learn a lesson. She’s just careless, floating along without any comprehension that her actions contribute to the detriment or well-being of others."
Everyone has the tendency to get caught up in their own day-to-day experience and to tune out others. Before I Fall isn't an indictment of Sam as a bad person. It's a reminder of how much better she (and anyone) could be if she realized how much every one of these interactions will count in her short life.
"One of the biggest takeaways from the film is that she discovers that she's been taking for granted these people who are taking care of her and who love her and who nurture her," Deutch told JoBlo.com about her character. In fact, as the repeated day goes by, Sam realizes in the movie and the book that she has the power to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect someone in her life.
Readers who love Before I Fall should be content with this big screen adaptation, which doesn't twist the book's introspective narrative to fit a pedestrian idea of what young adult audiences want to see.