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In case you haven’t guessed from the byline or the fact that this review is appearing in a prominent publication and not as a YouTube video, let me state the obvious: I am not a teenage girl.
That biological reality theoretically makes me less than qualified to review the screen adaptation of Anna Todd’s novel, part of a series of fan-fiction books inspired by the band One Direction, and its member Harry Styles in particular. But I feel confident that even if I were to be magically transformed into the target demographic, I would still find After to be a cliched, mediocre affair. Come back, Twilight, all is forgiven.
RELEASE DATE Apr 12, 2019
An appealing Josephine Langford (Wish Upon, Wolf Creek) plays the central role of Tessa, a fresh-faced teen who at the story’s beginning is starting her first year at college. She’s dropped off by her overprotective mom (Selma Blair), who’s horrified upon meeting her daughter’s exotic, nose-ring wearing roommate (Khadijha Red Thunder). Also on hand to say goodbye is Tessa’s boyfriend Noah (Dylan Arnold), who’s still in high school and whose affable, innocent demeanor instantly signifies that he won’t be in Tessa’s life, or the film, much longer.
Sure enough, Tessa soon meets Hardin (Hero Fiennes Tiffin, the nephew of Ralph and Joseph, looking like he’s stepped out of a Teen Vogue ad), a pouty-faced, leather jacket-wearing classmate who should have “Bad Boy” stamped on his forehead. Not that he’s your typical bad boy, though, since he seems to have very literary tastes. Spotting a book on Tessa’s shelf, he comments, “The Great Gatsby, that’s a good book.” He’s also able to quote from Wuthering Heights and engage in a spirited classroom argument with Tessa, about Pride and Prejudice, in which the subtext is inescapable.
Connecting over a party game of Truth or Dare, Tessa and Hardin soon get hot and heavy, at least in a PG-13 kind of way. They go swimming in a secluded lake, each of them maintaining a degree of modesty, but with Hardin shedding enough clothes to indicate a serious tattoo fixation. He also, not surprisingly, turns out to be a sensitive soul after all, opening up to Tessa about a tragic event in his past that provides a psychological explanation for his affected alienation.
When the virginal Tessa finally decides that she’s ready to take things to another level, the resulting encounter seems to have been scripted for a university sexual assault prevention program. “I want you!” Tessa breathlessly declares. “Are you sure?” Hardin carefully asks. He doesn’t take any chances. “Do you want me to stop?” he queries, before ripping open a condom wrapper. (If After doesn’t do well in theaters, at least Betsy DeVos can screen it for Congress.)
A potentially juicy subplot involving Hardin’s strained relationship with his university chancellor father (Peter Gallagher) gets short shrift, not to mention makes us wonder why Hardin speaks with a British accent and his dad doesn’t. It does provide the opportunity for a brief appearance by the always luminous Jennifer Beals as the father’s new bride, making viewers of a certain age nostalgic for the days when Blair, Gallagher and Beals would have played the young leads in a movie such as this.
Only the most naive audience members will find the climactic revelation about Tessa and Hardin’s relationship shocking, and only they will swoon at the inevitable happy ending. The melodramatic goings-on are accompanied by the sort of pop music seemingly designed less for a film soundtrack than a Spotify playlist. Director Jenny Gage, whose previous teenage girl-themed documentary All This Panic provided useful training for this assignment, lends a suitably glossy sheen to the proceedings.
Early in the film, shortly after Hardin and Tessa meet, he inquires about her high school boyfriend Noah and she describes him as “nice.” “Isn’t that just another word for boring?” Hardin asks. If that’s indeed the case, then let’s just say that After is a nice movie.
Production: Voltage Pictures, CalMaple Media, Diamond Film Productions, OffSpring Entertainment, Frayed Pages Entertainment, Wattpad
Distributor: Aviron Pictures
Cast: Josephine Langford, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Inna Sarkis, Shane Paul McGhie, Pia Mia, Khadijha Red Thunder, Dylan Arnold, Samuel Larsen, Swen Temmel, Selma Blair, Peter Gallagher, Jennifer Beals, Meadow Williams
Director: Jenny Gage
Screenwriters: Susan McMartin, Tamar Chestna, Jenny Gage, Tom Betterton
Producers: Jennifer Gibgot, Courtney Solomon, Mark Canton, Aron Levitz, Anna Todd, Meadow Williams, Dennis Pelino
Executive producers: Swen Temmel, Adam Shankman, Brian Pitt, Scott Karol, Sarah Jorge Leon, Alastair Burlingham, Gary Raskin, Walliam Sadleir, David Dinerstein, Jason Resnick, Nicolas Chartier, Jonathan Deckter
Directors of photography: Adam Silver, Tom Betterton
Production designers: Lynne Mitchell, Rusty Smith
Editor: Michelle Harrison
Composer: Justin Brunett
Costume designer: Alana Morshead
Rated PG-13, 106 minutes
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