I saw After (2019) at the request of a friend. I’m not normally into romance movies, as I feel they’re often quite trope-y and very heterosexual. Nonetheless, I entered the movie with little to no information about it and with no expectations of what the film was about.
Directed by Jenny Gage, this movie is based off a book of the same name by Anna Todd. The book was initially released on the writing site Wattpad, before being picked up by a publisher. It was also originally written as a One Direction fan fiction, not unlike Fifty Shades of Grey. Source.
The film follows Tessa Young, an 18 year old starting college in America. She’s portrayed as a conservative, shy young woman, who has big plans to study and pursue her education.
As she moves onto campus with the assistance of her mum and boyfriend Noah, Tessa meets Steph, her roommate, and her girlfriend Tristan. They’re both seniors, party, and have decorated the room with a dark, edge aesthetic.
Tessa’s mum is upset at the situation, thinking Steph and Tristan will be bad influences, but Tessa assures her that nothing will distract her from studying.
Through Steph and Tristan, she meets Molly, Jace, Zed, and “bad boy” Hardin Scott. At her first class, Tessa meets Landon, and they become friends, however he’s often rarely on screen.
Tessa meets Hardin when she comes back to the room after bathing and finds him sitting there alone. He is a traditionally attractive white man with a British accent, his dad the only other character with a non-American accent. They vaguely talk about books, before he leaves.
After inviting her to a few parties, Steph finally manages to convince Tessa to join them at one. A small group play truth or dare, and Tessa is dared to kiss Hardin. She refuses because she has a boyfriend and leaves.
From there, the plot follows Tessa’s relationship with Hardin, involving his fathers wedding, them moving into an apartment, and Tessa losing her relationship with her boyfriend and mother.
It comes to a head when it’s revealed by Molly that Hardin initiated a relationship with Tessa because of a dare from the party, in which he would make her fall in love with him and then break up with her. However, she is very quick to forgive him, and then the story ends.
Even from the start, the storyline felt like something from “Episodes”, an interactive story app, often with cliche story lines, or a Wattpad novel written by a high schooler. Many aspects of the story line felt unrealistic, ridiculous, and at stages very dangerous.
The film does its best to pose as a romance story, however its one of tragedy. While Hardin is portrayed as a “bad boy”, he’s just a rich privileged white boy who acts like a dick, and throws up major red flags.
TV Tropes defines the “bad boy” trope as, “… a mystery waiting to be solved; the Troubled, but Cute youth with a tragic past is a woobie needing comfort; he’s tough enough to be a girl’s protector, but vulnerable enough to need her as well.”
When I hear “bad boy”, I tend to think of Sean Cameron from Degrassi: The Next Generation, a bad boy from a low socioeconomic background and hard upbringing, who is kind to the people close to him, but tough to the world.
In my opinion, Hardin doesn’t fit into the idea of a bad boy. At one point, his “tragic past” is brought up, where his father used to be a drunk and his shenanigans ended up with an enemy killing his wife, and Hardin’s mother. Eventually, although not really explained, his father ended up moving to America, brought Hardin with him, met a woman, Landon’s mum, and is the head of the university, or chancellor, or something.
This is brought up after Hardin trashed the house because his dad got engaged, which brings us to the next point.
There were so many red flags coming up, and for someone who seemed to have her head screwed on tight, Tessa should never have dated him, let alone spend time with him. There were many instances where Hardin did or said things that made me concerned for Tessa’s wellbeing. One of them was when Landon called Tessa to come over because of an emergency. She arrives at the house to find it trashed, and Landon picking up the pieces. Hardin had gotten into a rage and thrown vases, chairs, etc around, leaving a mess, before going outside and drinking from a bottle right next to the pool.
Tessa goes outside to speak to Hardin, and he talks to her in a very aggressive manner. He holds out the bottle towards her and drops it, glass and alcohol going all around. Tessa reaches down and starts to clean up the glass, but cuts herself. Hardin stops her, and takes her away to clean her wound.
From his destructive aggressive outburst, and how non-apologetic Hardin is towards it, it’s clear that this is part of who he is, and should be a concern for Tessa. However, she doesn’t seem to think anything on it.
The timeline of the whole story is very vague. There is little to no indication of how much time passes throughout the entire film.
At one stage, Tessa’s mum comes to visit and walks in on her getting frisky with Hardin. Infuriated, Tessa is given an ultimatum – break up with him, or be cut off financially. Tessa calls her mum out for planning out her life, although little to no evidence is given in the film, and decides to stay with Hardin. Shortly after, he produces a key for an apartment he’s house sitting for the year, and tells her they can both live there, so they move in together.
While the beginning of the film is Tessa starting university, the end is her receiving marks back for an essay. It’s not clear if this is second semester, or she’s still in first. The timeline is very hazy. The existing concern for Tessa is added by this haziness, as it feels like it could fit into a week, a month, or a semester.
Tessa continues to be isolated from her family and friends. Her only regular friend, who is rarely shown, is Landon, who is related to Hardin by marriage. At the end, Steph says Tessa hasn’t seen her since she moved out, and god knows how long that’s been. Her only family is her mother, who she ends up not speaking to for most of the film, and she cheats on her boyfriend.
At the end of the film, Tessa and Hardin aren’t talking, since it’s revealed the relationship was part of a dare. One of Tessa’s teachers gives her Hardin’s essay, because while it was for the class, it was for Tessa? And she reads it, it’s basically an apology, she forgives him, and finds him to get together.
My friend said she enjoyed it, but for me, I sat in the theatre in horror for most of the time, wondering how Tessa could allow herself to keep going with this toxic relationship.
If I had the choice of retaining my memory of the movie, or have it removed from my brain forever, I would opt for the latter. I felt completely unsatisfied from the movie, and won’t be talking to my friend anymore.
For plot, out of 5, I would give it a one. It was consistent, at least, and there was a vague grasp of what the characters are like.
Would I recommend? NO!