Remember back in the day when we thought Twilight was a bad movie? Remember how after we saw Fifty Shades of Grey, we thought this kind of thing couldn’t possibly get any worse? Oh, how naïve we all were. The worst always comes After.
Tessa (Josephine Langford) just moved into college. She’s naïve and innocent and dresses like a Mennonite farmer to her first day of college courses. She has a boyfriend back home but doesn’t really know anything about romance. Her new roommate Steph (Khadijha Red Thunder) is a stoner bad girl who introduces her to Harry…I mean Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin), a British bad boy who’s a few years older than her. He wears black all the time and he’s so edgy. He’s borderline emotionally abusive to her at points, but she hangs onto his every word. They bicker, banter and fall in love.
Fanfiction website Wattpad has been referred to as the burial ground for terrible fan fiction. It’s mostly full of teenagers writing wish fulfillment stories where they insert themselves into an account where they fall in love with, usually a flavor-of-the-month celebrity. After is the brainchild of Anna Todd, who wrote a fan fiction on Wattpad of boy band One Direction member Harry Styles. She published a chapter daily for over a year, and this story received over 550 million clicks over that year. Eventually, it was acquired and published by Simon & Schuster and split up into a series of impossibly long books that became nationwide bestsellers, which many believe to be a startling sign of the imminent apocalypse.
After is the worst movie I have seen in years, and probably (hopefully) the worst movie I’ll see all year. It’s an exasperatingly dull romance between two young actors that are both giving terrible performances and have no chemistry. It’s a parade of bad pop songs and stupid characters getting themselves into stupid situations, and in the end, you don’t care about anybody or anything that went on in the last few hours you somehow survived through. It’s intended to be a celebration of the awakening of female sexuality, but instead, it reinforces every possible hideous stereotype about the way men and women interact with each other. It has a teen-friendly PG-13 rating, however, every character motivation and every message this narrative is trying to push is truly toxic for young viewers.
Josephine Langford is trying. That’s the best I can say about her performance. She isn’t doing a very good job, and she doesn’t sell big moments or exude any kind of emotional authenticity that might save this film from being utterly chaotic, but she is attempting to achieve a better performance than everyone around her, which I suppose is worth mentioning. Hero Fiennes-Tiffin is the nephew of Ralph Fiennes, and he’s terrible. He was born in the UK, but he sounds like an American teenager poorly attempting to do a British accent and butchering it. His character is all brooding and no personality. Khadijha Red Thunder, who plays Tessa’s roommate, is a first-time actress who is giving an exquisitely terrible performance. Every line reading is painful and despite the feeling that she’s comfortable in front of the camera, the camera isn’t comfortable with her.
The script by Susan McMartin, Tamara Chestna and director Jenny Gage seems to be on life support from the very beginning, but of course, the central problems with it may lie in the source material. In attempting to empower its central character through romance, we see immediately how toxic romance can be. Even her relationship with the ‘nice’ boyfriend back home is smothery and emotionally destructive. This film doesn’t understand female sexuality, despite being written by three women, and it could be argued it doesn’t understand relationships of any kind. Even Tessa’s relationship with her mother (played by Selma Blair), is viciously contemptuous from the beginning.
Directed and co-written by documentarian Jenny Gage, the film embraces every tired cliché imaginable from the first scene (where Tessa explains in voiceover about how there are some moments in life that define us) and does not stop until the house lights go up. Anna Todd has been on the talk show circuit discussing how amazing it is that she wrote most of this novel on her cell phone and how intense the creative process is. She should be embarrassed that this is the piece of work has her name on it. Everyone involved with it should be. Between the horrible dialogue, bland performances and the endless soundtrack of horrid way-too-on-the-nose pop songs, After is excruciatingly lifeless.