Written by: Susan McMartin, Tamara Chestna, Jenny Gage
Starring: Josephine Langford, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Selma Blair, Inanna Sarkis, Pia Mia
College presents an opportunity for individuals to reinvent themselves, but also find people outside of who they grew up with. The young protagonist of this feature certainly encounters a brand new experience when she heads off to university and finds someone who will leave an impressionable mark on her. Unfortunately, After falls into the trappings of its fanfiction routes to tell an inept story.
Heading off to college, Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) makes friends with her older roommate then inadvertently meets bad boy Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). Together, they strike up a relationship where Tessa learns to give herself to someone and Hardin allows himself to love.
Judging a film like After too harshly feels wrong considering the source material it gets pulled from. I respect anyone turning their Harry Styles fanfiction into a book series and now a feature film. Seems like an absolute dream, but the many things this feature gets wrong about college on top of its narrative blunders demonstrate the lack of quality on display here. It starts out much like what one would expect from a fanfiction story, with its virginal lead protagonist entering a new experience and then meeting the resident bad boy for an adventure unlike ever before. If it sounds similar to Fifty Shades of Grey then you would not be completely wrong. However, even with the stark difference in popularity, After surpasses the trilogy simply because the man who comes to love the lead swoon believes in basic consent.
As someone who works in higher education, the little things in the college experience expressed in this feature just took me away from what this film wanted to display. For example, Tessa moves into her room with Steph (Khadijha Red Thunder), who happens to be a junior. Now, I know how resident housing works and the likelihood of a first-year being paired with a junior is already close to none. Also as in many college films, they inaccurately portray how the doors both getting into the building and individual rooms lock purposefully, meaning random people cannot randomly barge in without the proper access. Does this get used to pushing the narrative forward? You bet. Very inside baseball, yes, but it falls into the phoniness of this story overall.
While I pointed out Hardin vastly surpasses Christian Grey as someone for our virginal lead character to fall for, these stories always seemingly have a moment where a character pushes the limits of what’s appropriate. Take the scene where these two meet. Tessa is showering in her room then exits the bathroom to change suspecting no one else being in the space. When looking into the mirror she sees Hardin sitting on the roommate’s bed. Rightfully shocked, she asks him to leave to which he responds, “Don’t worry, I’m not looking.” Not only does she have the right to angrily tell him to leave but she also has all of the justification to call the police on this creep. Again, we’re meant to root for these two to come together.
The rest of the film delves into Hardin insisting he does not date people and how he doubts the facets of love as expressed in the novel “Pride and Prejudice.” Conversations with enough to make you want to gag but these are the characters we’re stuck with and the narrative needs to put together something to make this relationship worthwhile. Does the film accomplish this feat? Well, not really considering the story feels bloated, and while Josephine Langford does fairly well with the horrid material given to her, buying Hero Fiennes Tiffin as some sort of heartthrob just never quite panned out.
I certainly can understand what they were going for in his casting seeing as he’s meant to represent a Harry Styles type but the way this character comes together did not allow me to take him seriously. Perhaps it’s me getting older but in all of the instances where he tried to act tough or broken, all I could do was laugh at the absurdity that this guy apparently never gets turned down by girls. A big stretch, and it’s certainly nothing against Tiffin, but he felt far too boyish for the aura this character meant to illicit. Hardin, overall, as a character does not justify the lengths Tessa is willing to go in order to keep their relationship together, which remains vital to this relationship working.
Filled with moments of cringe and cheap romanticism, After came out exactly how one would assume judging by its origins and reputation. The film fails even in its basic pursuit to tell a steamy romantic story about these two. The purpose of the storytelling fails in convincing the audience their connection is worth all of the trouble and it just cannot deliver on that front by even the smallest margin. It felt like I yelled at the screen for most of the film for her to run away and not throw her life away for a guy who will only break her heart.