After Your First, Life is Never the Same.
Writer Anna Todd’s After series started out as a piece of One Direction fan fiction, centering around a ‘bad boy’ version of Harry Styles who becomes romantically involved with a sheltered, wholesome academic freshman. The books fall into a relatively new literary category known as ‘New Adult Fiction,’ which is a cross between your traditional Young Adult novels and adult fiction. Several bestsellers later and we find ourselves with a movie version of Todd’s first story, which *yawn* sticks to a pretty familiar route — think the Twilight Saga (2008-12) or Fifty Shades (2015-18) — this stodgy piece of wish fulfilment failing to differentiate itself from its various influences or leave any sort of impression.
The story follows Tessa Young (Josephine Langford), a goody-two-shoes first-year high schooler who’s moving to Rossmore University in Atlanta, leaving behind her autocratic mother Carol (Selma Blair) and younger boyfriend Noah (Dylan Arnold), who’s a senior in high school. Straight away her mom becomes very concerned for her daughter’s well-being after meeting her new roomie, Steph (Khadijha Red Thunder), who appears to be your generic bad influencer — she smokes weed, wears fishnet stockings, and has piercings and tattoos (oh no!). Who her mother should be concerned about, however, is the mysterious British student, Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin), son of the school’s chancellor, who’s ‘deeper’ and ‘broodier’ than any boy Tessa’s ever met.
Initially locking horns — they argue over Pride and Prejudice in their English class coz Hardin thinks ‘Elizabeth Bennett needs to chill’ — the pair becomes closer after playing a game of Truth or Dare at a frat party. People warn Tessa that Harden is ‘complicated,’ but they’re fated to be together, even though Hardin doesn’t ‘date.’ He shows her a side of the world (and herself) that she’d never seen before, while she shows him that it’s possible to love (awww).
Heck, things are so perfect we’re left wondering, ‘what’s the catch?’ Is Harden a seductive serial killer? Does he have a kinky side à la Christian Grey? Is he in trouble with the law, and will his past catch up to him? It turns out it’s ‘none of the above.’ Rather than giving us something juicy to devour, we get a banal third-act reveal, one akin to finding out that your next-door neighbor has accidentally picked up your missing Amazon package and simply just forgot to tell you about it — it’s that much of a non-event! Had these characters used common sense or logic instead of listening to their heightened emotions, there’d be no dramas and, by extension, no movie. Instead, we have a bunch of tears, tantrums, and standard teen romance stupidity!
Penned by director Jenny Gage, All This Panic (2016), and writers Tom Betterton, Tamara Chestna, and Susan McMartin, the script is plebian at best and features some of the stiffest and most awkward dialogue I’ve heard this year. What’s more, these writers-room rejects do very little to give Tessa and Harden’s romance specificity or craft any sort of layered characters, most coming off as thinly sketched stereotypes — Hardin’s defining features are his tattoos and mopish British accent, while Tessa’s is her ponytail. Furthermore, the direction by Gage is flat and lifeless, the film lacking any sort of personality, its 105-minute runtime totally exhausting — it doesn’t help that it takes forever for anything remotely ‘interesting’ to happen. On top of everything, Gage doesn’t have fun with the source material by cheekily linking it back to One Direction, squandering an opportunity to add a naughty reference or needle drop into the proceedings to liven things up (the whole thing is played way too serious).
Performances are ‘okay’ at best, with Australia’s Josephine Langford, Wish Upon (2017), trying her darndest to breathe life into this sappy slice of melodrama. She at least does manage to sell the character’s curiosity and naïveté … well, up to a point. Hero Fiennes Tiffin (nephew of Ralph and Joseph Fiennes) blows as Harden, a boring Brit with a tortured past, Tiffin’s cheerless heartthrob just a ‘cut and copy’ from the thousands of other moody dreamboats we’ve seen. Elsewhere, Shane Paul McGhie, What Men Want (2019), doesn’t have much to do Tessa’s friend and confidant Landon, who’s apparently so popular there’s a whole spinoff series of books (by Anna Todd) based on the guy (God help us). Peter Gallagher shows up as Sandy Cohen from The O.C. (2003-07), even though he’s supposed to be playing Hardin’s father, Ken Scott, while Canadian Youtuber Inanna Sarkis does the cliché bitchy girl thing as Molly.
After — whose title refers to life ‘before’ and ‘after’ Harden — may have been savaged by film critics (it’s currently sitting on a 17% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) but it seems to have made a couple of bucks at the box office as the follow up, After We Collided, is currently in pre-production. Tired, tedious, and with nothing to say, After is as pedestrian as they come and will likely be forgotten right ‘after’ the credits roll — it’s times like these I miss Fifty Shades of Grey. Come back Christian, all is forgiven.
1.5 / 5 – Poor
Reviewed by Mr. Movie