Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 38 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence ; Language ; Sex/Nudity
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Therefore walk in the way of the good,
and keep to the paths of the just.
Hear, my child, your father’s instruction,
and do not reject your mother’s teaching;
for they are a fair garland for your head,
and pendants for your neck.
My child, if sinners entice you,
do not consent.
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.
Romans 12:2a (The Message)
Ry Russo-Young’s adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s YA novel will is a dramatic version of Ground Hog Day, involving teenagers rather than adults. In a sumptuous home in Oregon Samantha (Zoey Deutch) wakes up and brushes off her little sister Izzy (Erica Tremblay) eager to connect with her; reacts sullenly to her parents in the kitchen; rides to school with her fellow mean girls Lindsay (Halston Sage), really into enhancing her beauty, Ally (Cynthy Wu), gifted with a quick mind, and Elody (Medalion Rahimi), who loves partying.
It is Feb. 12., designated “Cupid’s Day” at school, and so students are selling and buying roses, the result of which will be a popularity contest. Nice guy Kent (Logan Miller), who has a long-time crush on her, gives Sam a rose and a card, but she brushes him off because she intends to lose her virginity to her steady, popular but self-centered hunk Rob (Kian Lawley). And this will happen at the keg party that Kent himself is hosting that night at his home while his parents are away.
All four of the “mean girls” are pleased with their number of roses, but not the class lesbian Anna (Liv Hewson) who, close enough for Sam to hear, says, “I’m in heteronormative hell.” Worse off is the class freak Juliet (Elena Kampouris), with her unkempt hair and clothes that not even the Salvation Army Store would accept as a donation. Although not enjoying their taunts, Samantha joins in with her friends, first at school, and then at the party that night, when the students totally strip her of any trace of dignity by hurling drinks at her. She rushes out of the house, pursued through the woods by Samantha, and then there is a car crash.
The next day Samantha wakes up at the same time to the same music and Izzy again jumping on her bed eager to embrace her sister. Samantha seems to be the only one throughout the day who remembers anything of previous days. Each one starts out the same, but through different choices enabled by her memory of what wrong before, there are differences. The fantasy film makes no attempt to explain that it is God or Fate, or whatever, that has trapped the girl in time. Her literature class teacher is dealing with the Myth of Sisyphus,” underlining the name so that we will not miss the point.
The differences in Samantha’s days that make them new are important. At the beginning of one the days Samantha welcomes Izzy, who during their rare conversations asks her why she is so mean to their mother (Jennifer Beals). This comes as a revelation, Samantha responding, “Am I?” On another go-around, Sam, deciding to speak her mind, dresses in slut-garb, rudely brushing aside her mother’s objections, and when her friends pick her up, calling out Lindsay on her bullying of Juliet so harshly that she is ordered out of the car. On another day, having seen boyfriend too drunk at the party to engage in sex, and another night promiscuously relating to another girl, accepts Kent’s affections. When she asks why he has felt so about her, he reminds her of her kindness toward him during a critical moment in grade school, revealing that she is not the same as her mean girlfriends.
For the first time in her life Samantha examines herself and her actions, saying, “If I was going to live the same day over and over, I wanted it to mean something… and not just to me.” It is those last five words that reveal the change in her basic outlook, those plus her mom’s advice during a car ride when Samantha had said something positive and supportive of her, “One good thing, just follow one good thing and see where it leads you.”
What Samantha does, and where it leads her that last night at the party makes for a very interesting and rewarding tale similar to that old saying that we should live every day as if it were the last day of our lives—because for some of us it will be. Those working with a youth group will find this a good film to discuss about friends and their influence for good or ill; bullying; accepting those who are different; and relating to siblings and parents. The Samantha whom we first meet is the perfect example of what Socrates said about the unexamined life being not worth living. Her little life as a mean girl was indeed useless, making no difference in her world. But at the end of the film, the Samantha who dashes out of the party in an attempt to catch up with the humiliated Juliet is a very different person because her concern now is not for herself, but for Juliet.
This review with a set of questions will be in the April 2017 issue of VP.