Some Thoughts About After (2019 Film)
Some Thoughts About After (2019 Film)
I may appear bias because I’ve read (and enjoyed) the original fan fiction After on Wattpad by Anna Todd, imagining myself as many of the others thousands of readers who likely projected themselves on cipher character Tessa Young in a bad-boy love story we admittedly would’ve yearned to be in with Harry Styles of One Direction. Of course, despite being written in 2013, at the nearing peak of One Direction hysteria, there were plenty of more other similar fan fictions as After at the time. But, this story in particular, which amassed an enormous amount of love from the One Direction fandom (over 544 million readers!), broke into the mainstream writing world with its novel being published (the obvious changes being the characters’ names changed and such). The 2019 film After is an adaptation of that released book and where my background knowledge of the story ends, as I am unaware of major changes to the original fan fiction story besides the name-changes of the characters. So, I can only judge the film for what I see it to be.
After follows the angsty love story between book smart Tessa Young, recently arrived college student with growing discontent in staying in her “good girl” bubble and Mr. Handsome Hardin Scott, a tattooed British bad boy with emotional constipation, familial troubles, but an unspoken soft side only Tessa gets to see. As you might imagine, the trope is very common amongst teenage/young adult love stories, especially in fan fiction. The twist to the original story was that it was Harry Styles who was the bad boy and Tessa (you, essentially) were the good girl! Without that twist, unfortunately, the movie stands alone in its overused and generic romance that forces it to depend on a good plot. A consistent and interesting plot that rises the cliche out of its unoriginal grave to give the watchers and readers, many of whom have come across the trope plenty of times before, a breath of fresh air! Something different that strays from the trope’s predictability and monotonous scenes that are found in every fiction of its kind.
And, there’s a little bit of that. But, not enough to save the movie from stepping into the trope’s landmines of its aforementioned predictability. After could have been a captivating and enticing love story between two very different students in college had it not been stuck on keeping its mediocre romance true to the fiction’s initial intentions, which I believe undoubtedly is for wish-fulfillment purposes. It’s all simply too good to be true. And I suppose, it’s an entire debate as to whether or not pandering to an audience’s expectations is considered a flaw in telling the overall story. But here, as a movie, as what huge fans of the series (the published novel or the web fan fiction) and everyday romance-film lovers pay for in a movie theater setting, I imagine many would be disappointed with After’s lack of novelty.
Of course, After isn’t completely indigestible. There are qualities of the film that I wished were more prominent or highlighted so as to not become exactly what most expected to see (from those who hadn’t heard/read the work in words). The characters were walking-talking tropes, but they are young students who have learned or are coming to fit within or outside certain stereotypes. In a college-setting, you’d find plenty of friendly but party-centric people as Steph and Zed. Even assholes like Molly exist: despite her only being a mere plot device to further add angst to the relationship between Tessa and Hardin. Tessa herself is a relatively normal, intelligent and headstrong girl that I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy on the screen (have we seen enough “shy glasses-geek good girl” fictions in our lifetime?”). Though she does play her trope’s role, being naive and inexperienced, actress Josephine Langford does well to bring a sophistication to the role that doesn’t want to make the watchers roll their eyes at the odd decisions the plot forces her to choose.
As for Hardin Scott . . . what else would you expect? He wears layers of black clothes, doesn’t (supposedly) believe in love, and is a tad narcissistic. Hero Fieness-Tiffin, despite his eccentric awkward lines (likely taken straight from the novel), gives the audience a boyish British charm we were all bewitched by to read the original Harry Styles story. His added emotion to the perforation, though limited, was a nice touch (which could be thanks to the actor or the script, I am uncertain). Hardin’s poorly conceived backstory cannot be said the same. I believe this mostly to be an adaptation issue, since I can recall familial troubles with the character in the original fan fiction that helped strengthen the bond Tessa and Hardin (then, Harry Styles) and resolve those familial troubles overall. In the film, they are . . . there. That’s pretty much it. Not only did it leave that untold backstory much more to desire, but it completely underutilized poor Landon: a character no one could say they liked because he was barely on screen enough (despite being the main character’s damn step-brother) and was a plot device, just like Molly, for the tumultuous relationship between Tessa and Hardin.
And for all I enjoyed from the cast of characters, they were ultimately held back by cheesy plot-points and just bizarre dialogue that probably sounded better in the book than on screen (“I can’t believe you’re mine”: still cringey to hear!). I hoped, really hoped, this movie would turn on its head and bring something new to the table: it had a written formula but it unfortunately brought no new variables to the equation. There are definitely points within the film where it could’ve taken the opportunity with the plot to delve more into these characters and how they interact with one another, especially with the ending (which I believe was open-ended for the sake of a second film in the making). These are just a few thoughts without going into too much detail about the plot (because there is plenty to say about it, trust me).
Of course, I understand that my opinion is my own and I can only judge the film from what I perceive it to be from my knowledge of the original One Direction fan fiction with no prior understanding of the published book. Thank you for reading to this point!