Updated: Feb 8, 2020
After is a teenage romance about how the epic love between two college students changes both of their lives. At least, that is what it thinks it is about. The tagline on the poster says “After your first, life is never the same.” But I have no idea what the defining moment is supposed to be for sheltered college freshman Tessa. I suppose the “first” is meant to be love, though the story throws so many obstacles at its couple that it runs out of time to actually develop a relationship. The two characters hardly even seem to know one another by the end. Adapted from the first in a four book series by Anna Todd, this feels like a sketch based on other romances that nobody bothered to fill in before it got released.
Tessa has a controlling mother and a high-school senior boyfriend who seems to think they are still children. She meets the sullen Hardin and falls for his persistence. Or maybe the fact that he has read a bunch of books. Regardless, they only have eyes for each other. Can their love survive his sudden mood swings and supporting characters who only exist to try to keep them apart?
After (99 minutes, minus the end credits) is one of those movies that tries to use music and editing to persuade audiences it is about something because no other aspect of it is successful at this. The dialogue, plot turns and characters all fail to make any of this convincing. In defense of the actors, none of the characters have any depth, thus making their jobs very difficult.
Josephine Langford is sweet and friendly as Tessa, but the screenplay forces her to make decisions that are baffling based on what is on-screen. Hero Fiennes Tiffin is the blank slate men usually are in this genre. When he does get to show personality, he is a self-pitying jerk who treats Tessa very badly. He lies to her, manipulates her and condescends to her. The movie does not appear to realize how problematic this behavior is.
If After was about two people attempting to figure out who they are together or an analysis of an abusive relationship, at least one of them might be able to learn and grow. Instead, this is intended to be a passionate love against all odds. So the movie has them fight through obstacles to assure us they were destined to be together, though nothing on display made me think that was true.
Now about those obstacles. I expect contrivance in movies like this, but nearly everything introduced here is to get in their way. Tessa’s Mom, her boyfriend, Hardin’s circle of friends and his troubled past. The way these things act on the young couple does not add drama. It just makes everyone involved look dumb (the big late reveal is especially lame and unoriginal; if there is a more ridiculous way for it to be paid off, I cannot think of it). Because there are so many of these things, their story becomes about what they have to overcome rather than what they actually mean to each other.
I know I said this recently in reference to another teenage romance, but this was not made for me. It was made for someone for whom the description “two attractive young people try to be happy together despite the hindrances thrown their way” is inherently appealing. They will not care that After is poorly written or derivative of hundreds of other stories or that the leads have no chemistry or their relationship is unhealthy or some of the big moments make no sense. They will be too busy swooning. I could not give myself over to the passion or buy into the love. I was too busy rolling my eyes.
¾ out of 5
Josephine Langford as Tessa Young
Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Hardin Scott
Dylan Arnold as Noah
Shane Paul McGhie as Landon Gibson
Khadijha Red Thunder as Steph Jones
Selma Blair as Carol Young
Inanna Sarkis as Molly Samuels
Directed by Jenny Gage
Screenplay by Susan McMartin