Teen heartthrob movies hit a certain realm of nostalgia that lurks in the shadows of every college student. Now-adults shrub in embarrassment over the film that they were once obsessed over. In fact, it’s very likely that the person sitting next to you in class was a “Twilight” fanatic and had posters of Edward Cullen lining their walls. No shame.
That being said, I wanted to dive into my roots and review another heartthrob movie that recently hit the box office. “After,” released to the screen on April 12, is based off of a Harry Styles fanfiction written by Anna Todd. That sentence should speak for itself to describe the movie, but a quick summary of the flick will do justice before digging into its intricacies.
(Warning: Do not proceed if you do not want to read spoilers.)
“After” follows Tessa, an 18-year-old girl about to enter her first year of college, leaving her high school boyfriend, Noah, behind. Tessa’s mom is concerned that she is going to get into trouble at her university, but Tessa, a goodie two-shoes, assures her mom that nothing will go wrong. Obviously, a bunch of things do.
Tessa finds a strange, yet attractive stranger sitting on her bed after she returns from a shower. It turns out that this hot stranger is friends with her roommate. His name is Hardin (in the books, Hardin is Harry Styles), and he’s a total bad boy: complete with a terrible British accent and strange tattoos. Tessa despises everything about Hardin, so it’s only natural that she will fall for him later in the story.
The next day, Tessa gets dragged to a party by her roommate, where she gets drunk for the first time. Coincidentally, Hardin is at the same party, where he and Tessa are dared to makeout with one another in a game of truth or dare, after guests discover that Tessa is a virgin. But the goodie two-shoes freshman refuses, calling her younger boyfriend who is upset that she even got drunk in the first place.
During the party, Tessa roams the house in an angry rage, ending up in Hardin’s room, where she discovers that he has a copy of “Wuthering Heights.” The two end up in the same literature class, where they get in a feisty debate over “Pride and Prejudice.”
And thus, the sexually tense relationship between Tessa and Hardin begins; Tessa is still with her boyfriend and has to navigate her relationship in secret. Over time, the two are discovered and Tessa is cut off financially by her mother because of it. Hardin saves the day by buying them an apartment. And then, some more weird sex scenes to top it off.
When Tessa starts to think that Hardin is cheating on her, she discovers a video in which he confesses that dating Tessa is all part of a dare. The two end their relationship and Tessa returns to her normal life and former boyfriend.
But before the movie ends, Tessa receives an essay from her professor that Hardin wrote. The letter is narrated as Tessa visits the lake where they first kissed, “You once asked me who I loved the most in the world. It’s you.”
The fanfiction movie is the first installment of a three part series, so there is more to the story of Tessa and Hardin.
Why It Should Not Have Been Adapted to a Movie
I’m not here to completely diss fanfiction. I think it’s a great outlet for writers to dive into a story that they adore; it’s also a great way to gain more experience as a writer. You learn by doing, right? That being said, it can’t be ignored that some fan fiction contains a lot of R-rated content, also known as smut. While everything can’t be portrayed in the movie, there’s a ton of awkward foreplay and heavy breathing and Hardin leaning over Tessa in — what is supposed to be — a “sensual” way.
People who read smut know what they’re getting into: sex scenes and nothing else. It’s the same reason that porn never has good dialogue. So don’t try to perfume your poorly written smut and call it literature.
“After,” the written series, got popular because it depicted sex scenes of Harry Styles. Styles is obviously a very attractive person. It’s the perfect formula for relatable content for teens. Before anyone tries to defend the fact that it is so “enticing,” the content without the sexual tension is flat as a board.
Speaking of flat, the characters themselves lack dimension. Tessa’s character has been portrayed by fans as “not a Mary Sue,” but in my opinion, she’s so annoyingly the opposite that it makes me want to rip my hair out. It’s the “I’m so naive and sarcastic and every morning I lazily throw my hair into a messy bun and fall down the stairs because I’m clumsy” archetype. It has also been known as a Bella Swan character.
Her entire character revolves around peeling away Hardin’s narrative like an onion. In that case, her character is essentially useless. Her whole self-worth and characterization is based around Hardin’s level of attraction to her and nothing else. There’s nothing substantial remaining.
Even Hardin is flat, and is the most boring bad-boy type I’ve ever encountered. I can appreciate a fan-flick and get behind it, but this character barely seems like a mold of Styles. Styles is actually a very sweet individual, and to paint him in such a boring light is almost insulting. If you’re going to use a real person as your character, at least use the positive qualities about said character that already exist.
In addition to the main characters, the side characters are so flat that they are hard to differentiate from one another. Characterization aside, the film is littered with clichés about defining moments and soulmates and poor timing. These concepts have been beaten to the ground again and again and no amount of awkward foreplay can revive it.
The studio definitely created what they thought would be a hit for the teen/tween demographic, accompanied with Todd’s watered down novel turned screenplay. Bottom line, you can’t make a mountain out of a molehill.
If you’re looking for something deep and emotionally stimulating, don’t watch “After.” I would argue that even “Twilight” has more dimension and a more enticing plot than this fanfiction. If you just want something that’s on the verge of pornography but not quite, utilize “50 Shades of Grey.” The only thing that “After” did for me was bring on premature grey hairs.