A film review by Craig J. Koban July 28, 2019

AFTER j
 

2019, PG-13, 106 mins.

 

Josephine Langford as Tessa Young  /  Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Hardin Scott  /  Selma Blair as Carol Young  /  Jennifer Beals as Karen Gibson  /  Peter Gallagher as Ken Scott

Directed by Jenny Gage  /  Written by Susan McMartin, based on the book by Anna Todd

 

 

 

The new young adult romance drama AFTER is an adaptation of a novel of the same name by Anna Todd that's so insipidly scripted that one has to question how the book version even saw the publishing light of day.  

It tells a story of hopeless mediocrity and numbing predictability about a young "nice girl" college freshman that finds herself falling for a "bad boy" that has multiple issues.  The premise alone is hardly anything new and has been explored countless times before in other similar genre films that it frankly inspires migraines just thinking about it.  This leaves only one thing that could have saved this enterprise from being wholeheartedly and instantly disposable: Two likeable lead actors that have superb chemistry.  Regrettably, this element is completely vacant in AFTER, which results in a film that feels like one endurance test of a slog to sit through for anyone outside of its target demographic audience. 

The "good girl" in question is Tessa (Josephine Langford), a full of life and wide eyed teen that's about to start her first year at college.  The film opens with her mother (a seriously slumming it Selma Blair) and her boyfriend, Noah (Dylan Arnold) dropping her off at campus for her first day, and upon arrival Tessa is introduced to her edgy roommate (Khadijha Red Thunder), who superficially looks like bad news and instantly turns both Tessa and her mother off.  Of course, Noah is one of those super positive nice guys that consoles Tessa as only he can, which leads one to surmise with reasonable accuracy that, within the first half of this story, that Tessa will royally cheat on this guy with some hunky new college suitor that's Noah's polar personality opposite.  Well, from the opening sections of AFTER it becomes abundantly clear that poor and well meaning Noah will be dead meat on a stick in terms of factoring into Tessa's romantic life moving forward. 

 

 

Unsurprisingly enough, Tessa has a weird and creepy meet cute with the aforementioned "bad boy" in Hardin (Hero Fiennes Tiffin, the nephew of Joseph and Ralph Fiennes) and within seconds of being introduced this dude seems less like a flesh and blood human being and more like a sullen faced Calvin Klein underwear model.  He has the hair, the chiseled jaw line, the broodingly intense stare, and - wait for it! - he wears a leather jacket (instant bad boy and swoon factor) and - wait for it again! - he's hyper literate and intelligent, who manages to have a rather spirited argument about the themes of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE with Tessa during a later literature classroom debate.  Hardin isn't just some dumb jock with a killer bod and a hauntingly handsome mug....he also likes books and seems like Tessa's intellectual equal. 

After a few awkward encounters, Tessa and Hardin start to bond, and their connection grows deeper during a party sequence, during which time the pair and their mutual friends engage in a match of Truth or Dare, and Tessa is dared to - gasp! - make out with Hardin (oooooohh the tension!).  She walks out on the pouty faced 19th Century literary expert, but then the pair seem inexplicably drawn towards one another, which culminates with a skinny dipping rendezvous at a local lake, showcasing both of them letting their guards down to succumb to their burning adolescent desires (but not in a heavy and hard R-rated kind of way...this film is a tame PG-13).  The more time Tessa spends with Hardin the more she grows to realize that his cool facade harbors a soft hearted sensitive type on the inside, and he later opens up to her about some of his deepest insecurities and fears.  And, he's deep (did I tell you already that he's a tattoo covered 19th Century literature expert?), but just when things are going swimmingly (no pun intended) for the pair, Hardin's troubled past comes to the forefront - as well as a would-be shocking reveal - that threatens the pair's future happiness.   

Okay, one of the biggest problems with AFTER  - kind of akin to the FIFTY SHADES series, but much tamer - is that the central romance contained within is decidedly high on the skin crawling creepiness factor.  Tessa falls alarmingly easy for this complete stranger, mostly because she discovers a copy of WUTHERING HEIGHTS in his bedroom after that botched Truth or Dare game, which in her mind means that he's a-okay and not damaged goods, and is justifiably doable because they share a passion for good books.  Oy vey.  Complicating things is Tessa as a character, and all throughout AFTER I couldn't decide whether she was simply stupid or just a thoroughly dislikeable person...or both.  She's with an apparent good young man in Noah, but he doesn't wow her sexually, leading to her cheating on him with Hardin, who she confides in later for making her feel things that Noah could not...and only after a few days.  If the mission of AFTER was to make us hate its main character...then mission accomplished. 

The film is also paradoxically populated by what it thinks are intelligent people that just so happen to act idiotically.  On top of Tessa's unbelievable ability to fall in love with Hardin within an inexcusably short period of time, other characters like her mother behave in manners that strain modest credulity.  Take the moment when she discovers to her horror Tessa making out with Hardin in her dorm room.  Now, this should rightfully anger her because her daughter is supposed to be with Noah, but is now with this stranger, but then she completely flies off the handle and venomously lashes out that Tessa will be "cut off" is she stays with his guy ("Can't you see?  You're throwing your college career away!  I'm cutting you off!").  Blair's mother says this within 60 seconds of meeting Hardin.  On what plane of normal, earthbound reality do mother-daughter conversations like this exist?  Blair is a great actress that's unfortunately given extraordinarily corny dialogue and a wretched written character to harness. 

The performances overall are kind of an embarrassment too, especially from Langford, who's so flat and monotone throughout the film that it comes off like she's sleepwalking throughout every scene she occupies.  She looks great, but simply has very little in the way of on-screen charisma.  Hero Fiennes Tiffin perhaps comes off a bit better and seems like a more seasoned performer, but his work here is more about posturing than fully forming an authentic persona with past trauma and hidden pains.  There's some potentially juicy subplots involving his strained relationship with his family that are introduced, and then are never developed further or with any substantially compelling arcs.  And then there's the film's late breaking "dark secret" that is scandalously revealed, and the end result is so corny and hackneyed that a "it was all just a dream" moment would have been infinitely more agreeable to help drum up some dramatic conflict before we get the unavoidable happy ending where both parties make up. 

I've read a lot of people online calling this film FIFTY SHADES light, which is doubling insulting, seeing as that film trilogy was so putrid that any usage of its name to prop up another film property seems like a foolhardy mistake of word of mouth advertising.  AFTER and the FIFTY SHADES series are alike in the sense that they're about good girls finding themselves in toxic relationships with men that are absolutely no good for them.  Beyond that - and the fact that there's no kinky sex in AFTER - the films could not be anymore different.  AFTER is obnoxious to watch because of how thinly written and weakly acted it is, and you'll be hard pressed to find a more dramatically shallow young adult film all year.  The end of AFTER even hints at future installments to come.  Films this bad shouldn't make those promises to viewers. 

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