EL James created a monster. Her re-animated erotic Twilight fan fiction not only managed to spawn a full theatrical trilogy that went on long after the novelty wore off but has now created its own subgenre, leading us to After, based on Anna Todd’s One Direction fan fic turned novel. However, since Harry Styles would likely rather drive off a cliff than have any association with this, the story completely divorces itself from anything that could remotely relate to the long separated and under-appreciated boyband. What we’re left with is certainly…a movie, I guess.
Our story centers on incoming college freshman Tessa. Shockingly, she’s a angelically virginal bookworm who is having a hard time adjusting to her newfound freedom from her helicopter mom and high school senior boyfriend. Things take a turn for the saucy when Hardin, an emotionally elusive rebel without a cause enters the picture. These two start living like they’re young very quickly and the rest of the story covers the ups and downs of their blissfully ignorant romantic fantasy.
We’re then taken on a lovely trip down memory lane as we relive a milk tossed version of the questionable romances of Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. Granted, Hardin isn’t quite as psychotic as Edward or Christian. He’s not so much a gaslighting stalker as he is an emotionally aloof wannabe emo who emotionally whiplashes Tessa through hot and cold stages of their love affair. He’s the kind of guy who will make every day a struggle at some point, which is certainly not the romance that Harry Styles promised a generation. All of that dourness is apparently just dandy for Tessa, who decides to devote her entire existence to Hardin within a matter of weeks. After all, why give impressionable teenage girls anything to aim for in their college years other than an all encompassing romance where you can finally have the door closed? That’s what makes them beautiful.
While none of the actors are outright terrible, there’s not much they can do with material that could barely survive on the CW during a weak pilot season. Josephine Langford (sister of 13 Reasons Why’s Katherine) and Hero Finnes Tiffin have a couple compelling moments of raw physical chemistry but neither is able to burst through their characters’ played out tropes. They don’t even have that “one thing” that might set them apart. The supporting cast blend together, especially when they’re all sidelined as the romance takes center stage. The only one who somewhat stands out is Selma Blair as Tessa’s mother but only because I spent most of her screen time wondering what bet she lost that got her involved in this.
While director Jenny Gage’s presentation is slick enough to keep After from being unwatchable, she doesn’t lean hard enough into a tone that could distinguish this in any way. It’s not unapologetically romantic enough to overcome the moments that are super creepy and it’s not campy enough to be deliriously entertaining Fifty Shades films. It just…lingers, futilely praying that the leads can wring something out of this material.
It seems After’s box office prospects are weak, which hopefully signals that audiences are over this particular shade of romance. We can only take so many pasty looking, emotionally unhealthy couples before the already weak fibers tear . Fortunately, my mostly teenage audience’s reaction to this was mostly confused laughter. Glad they’ve stopped their crying, it’s a sign of the times.
Fortunately, my mostly teenage audience’s reaction to this was mostly confused laughter. Glad they’ve stopped their crying, it’s a sign of the times.