Review: Jenny Gage’s ‘After’ Starring Josephine Langford And Hero Fiennes Tiffin

From guest writer Karen Peterson


There’s nothing quite as magical as first love. With the new film, After, director Jenny Gage attempts to bring that magic to the screen, but ultimately falls short. What began life as One Direction-inspired fan fiction from Anna Todd becomes a lukewarm, paint-by-numbers romantic drama. Its attempts to tackle certain taboo topics are admirable, even though the story is flat and lacks the boldness to fully address such issues.
Tessa (Josephine Langford) is a brand new college freshman, bright-eyed and eager to start forging her own path. Her overbearing mother, Carol (Selma Blair), is reluctant to let Tessa be an adult. Carol has opinions on everything, from what classes Tessa should take to admonishing her daughter to steer clear of her troublesome roommate, Steph (Khadijha Red Thunder). It isn’t long before Tessa, desperate to rebel even a little, goes to a (gasp!) frat party and meets Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), resident Bad Boy.
Langford is sufficiently sweet as Tessa. It isn’t a bad performance, though it isn’t a particularly great one either. Her scenes with Tiffin are sometimes awkward in the ways they are supposed to be. After all, this is a story about two young people falling in love. Too often, though, their burgeoning relationship feels forced and boring.
To add some drama, Tessa has a boyfriend back home. Noah (Dylan Arnold) is still in high school and their longtime relationship is much less about love and more about comfort. Tessa is comfortable with Noah, the safe, unassuming boy she’s known since childhood. He represents the innocence she still holds onto, even when she thinks she’s ready to let go of it.
The other drama comes from Hardin. He is all wrong for Tessa, just like any other Bad Boy in any other story. We know this because he is distant and a bit menacing. He parties and has a muddled history. Hardin doesn’t want to get close, but then he lets her in, and then pulls away again. He has a troubled family situation. Everything about him fits the standard trope that would work just fine for anyone who hasn’t seen a thousand love stories before.
It’s hard to say that After is all bad, though. Yes, it is full of cliches and “plot twists” you can see before they are even set up. But this is also a film that presents female sexuality and issues of body image in ways that aren’t often shown onscreen. At least not in a believable or relatable way. Tessa is insecure and unsure of her feelings. She questions herself at every turn. She wonders if she’s ready for things like sex and adult decisions. Before these questions and themes can be fully explored, the story dips back into familiar, overdone banality. But it opens doors to conversations that girls should be having, and perhaps that is enough to make it worth watching.
Rating: 2 out of 5