The “Good Girl/Bad Boy” formula has been a staple of modern romance for as long as anyone can remember. No matter how many wish to deny it, there’s something about the rebellious type that certain women can’t help but be fully attracted to. There is the theory that the love is fueled by the desire to “fix” them; that they can figure out what makes them tick and help them become the good natured person they think they can be. There’s also the theory that they’re attracted to the bad boy because it’s how they themselves rebel against their parents.
Now, this well-worn formula has become the basis for the new teen romance film, After, following small town good girl Tessa Young (Josephine Langford). She’s new to the university environment as she finally tries to break away from her overbearing mother Carol (Selma Blair) and hometown boyfriend Noah (Dylan Arnold). Very quickly, she is pulled into the drug-fueled, party-filled life of college with her roommates and new friends.
Soon into her time there, she unwillingly meets Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin), a tattooed rich boy who immediately takes an interest in her. Of course, she’s very reluctant to return said feelings. But there’s something about his mysterious nature and consistent attempts that seem to be pulling her closer to him. As they spend more time together, Tessa realizes that, not only is she actually falling for him, but that something about him isn’t what it appears.
Based on a novel that was originally posted on the social website WattPad, After is one of the site’s most read stories of all time. It became so popular that it was fully published as a real novel, and quickly rose to many different bestseller lists. Despite relying on a well-known concept, there’s something about the story that teen girls and young women couldn’t get enough of. It even has three sequels that continue the couple’s relationship.
Unfortunately, while the story may speak to a certain audience, those not of that will be left pinning for only one thing: the end. After is an unoriginal, terribly made retread of a story we’ve seen too many times before. Relying on every last known cliché that this kind of romance has dished out over the decades, it does absolutely nothing to reinvent them, or present them in a way that makes us care for these irritating characters.
You can’t help but wonder what exactly happened to the author to make her want to write a story that seems content to waist the readers time. Originally, she designed it as a fan fiction centering on one of the members of One Direction. It’s conception seems uncannily similar to the creation of E.L. James’s Fifty Shades series, which began as a Twilight fan fiction. Maybe there’s something to be said about the use of fan fiction to create these overly complicated tales of fractured love.
Though the film’s problems also stem from the choice of cast. Don’t try guessing who stars in it, because nobody well known does. They chose two actors (Langford and Tiffin) who undoubtably look the part, but lack any sort of talent. They don’t really become the characters. They’re just pretty faces that are only meant to fill the roles without actually playing them. There are certain shots where Langford looks almost exactly like actress Chloë Grace Moretz (who would have been a better choice, she’s still young enough). It’s almost like she’s a dime-store substitute for her, minus the talent.
The key to making a good romance is giving us characters we can fall in love with ourselves. It’s almost immediately as the film begins we realize we want nothing to do with these characters. Everyone is some kind of stereotype found in other, far better, stories. It’s as if the author picked caricatures out of hat and went from there. Nobody gives us any reason to root for them, not even the leads. Tessa is too prissy and feminist, and Hardin is so mysterious we don’t know why he does what he does half the time. Add those two to the collection of drug-abusing, sex-obsessed, party-loving side characters, and we’re left with a cast of generic, unlikable wannabes.
Going back to Fifty Shades for a second, it appears this film is meant to truly infuriate us. Yes, in this “young” adult story, there are about three of four full-on sex scenes. If that doesn’t creep you out, then the strategically placed filming and obvious attempts to keep parts of the characters covered might anger you instead. The film treats us like we’re the dog in the Ultimate Dog Tease YouTube video. We have two beautiful lovers about to go at it, then right as we get to the good stuff, it says “got you,” and takes it away. You may disagree with this comment, but one thing a movie should never do is tease and mock the audience’s expectations.
It may only be April, but After makes a strong bid for the coveted title of “Worst Movie of 2019.” It may appeal to the target audience (even though they have plenty of better romances to pick at like vultures already), but for everyone else, this film seems content to waist your time with overdone clichés and one annoying tease after another. This reviewer’s advice: don’t believe everything a “too young, too successful” author writes is good.