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Blu-ray Review: After

July 16, 2019

By John Corrado

★ (out of 4)

The college romance After, based on the YA novel by Anna Todd, opens with our protagonist Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) telling us in voiceover about the “moments in our lives that seem to define us” and how her life “before him” was “simple and undecided,” and how “after him” there is just… “after.” Cue the film’s title card.

Right from this eye-rollingly on the nose opening narration, director Jenny Gage’s adaptation of After feels painfully twee and clichéd. The “him” that Tessa is referring to is Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), a cute British bad boy that she meets when she moves away to university.

Tessa’s life “before him” is fairly ordered and simple. She has an overprotective mother (Selma Blair) who is reluctant to let her go, and a doting boyfriend (Dylan Arnold) that she leaves behind who is still in his final year of high school. Hardin is actually a mutual friend of Tessa’s new roommate Steph (Khadijha Red Thunder) – who vapes and is instantly deemed a “bad influence” by Tessa’s mother – and she first encounters him lounging in their room casually reading the copy of The Great Gatsby that she brought with her from home.

Tessa is in a towel and Hardin refuses to turn around so she can get dressed. “Don’t flatter yourself,” he deadpans, and her feigned annoyance hides the fact that she is actually smitten. The two carry on like this for a while, playfully bickering and acting like they hate each other, including during a numbingly pseudo-intellectual classroom argument about the true nature of Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship in Pride and Prejudice, while actually falling madly, deeply in love. They understand each other, the film wants us to believe, because they both read and quote classic literature. But Hardin has a secret that threatens their very relationship.

If this all sounds like bad fan fiction, that’s because it is. The book that the film is based on actually originated as a Harry Styles fan fic that the author initially published on Wattpad, before a publisher approached her and turned it into a bestseller. This sounds like a joke, but I assure you it is not. The whole things feels recycled from already shoddy properties like Twilight and its even worse fan fiction counterpart Fifty Shades of Grey, and the relationship between Tessa and Hardin is similarly, shall we say, problematic.

Hardin is someone that other people describe as “complicated.” But “he’s different around me,” Tessa protests. Everyone warns her to “be careful” and that he will “break her heart.” But he’s soooo cute. And that accent! Hardin is not just British, but British. We know this because he has a Union Jack hanging on his bedroom wall, and a well-worn copy of Wuthering Heights filled with sticky notes marking his favourite parts. Oh, and we also know that he’s British and oh so edgy because he wears a Ramones t-shirt, which Tessa predictably starts sporting partway through the film.

He’s troubled, and has undefined issues stemming from a cold, distant father (Peter Gallagher, in what amounts to a glorified cameo), who also happens to be the Chancellor of the university. He’s a brooding, narcissistic emo fuckboy playing around with a naive girl’s feelings, and that’s not only frustrating to watch, but also extremely unappealing and even harmful to depict. He will inevitably hurt Tessa, but that’s just because he is actually hurting deep down inside, and he needs her to help him soften up.

The characters feel like manufactured shells of real people. Steph is shown hooking up with girls, but also flirts with guys, and is presented as amorphously bisexual in the way that all Bad Influence™ college roommates are. The dialogue sounds as if it was written not by a human but by a bot, programmed to try and emulate the speech patterns of normal teenagers falling in love, but instead spitting out what sounds like computerized versions of real conversations.

The film follows the mass market teen romance formula to a tee, without a single hint of irony or originality. It’s a movie that is almost inconceivably awful in so many ways that it borders on self-parody, a romance in which the central relationship not only doesn’t have a hint of believability to it, but also sends the wrong message to teen girls everywhere. Almost every single note of this trite, contrived and hopelessly stereotyped film rings false, and there is no real way for me to recommend it, unless you have a perverse curiosity to watch a piece of laughably bad One Direction fan fiction.

The Blu-ray also includes a short selection of deleted scenes, a collection of soundbites from Anna Todd, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Jenny Gage, Josephine Langford and Selma Blair. There is also a random selection of isolated clips from the film, which just seems like a really odd thing to include.

After is a VVS Films release. It’s 106 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: July 9th, 2019

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