After (2019)

“We’re all hardwired to desire.”

After is a film that almost feels like a naive before, at times even a simple and virginal prelude, to the learned and kinky eroticism on full display in 50 Shades of Grey. It’s a horny looking movie, featuring an extreme use of overly saturation colors, as well as a virile picture with more than a few scenes where the characters are quite literally wet and sweaty and full of lust. And it’s really not that horrible. I honestly didn’t mind most of After considering that it is what it is, but was nevertheless disappointed that the story didn’t have the patience or the prudence to add a little more depth to its fan-fiction material.

With her hovering Mom (Selma Blair) and definitely doomed high school boyfriend Noah (Dylan Arnold) by her side, college freshman Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) walks into her college dorm room. Her roommate Steph (Khadijha Red Thunder) is already unpacked and cuddling her girlfriend when they arrive. Tessa’s Mom is shell-shocked by this surprise, while her daughter looks to be apprehensively intrigued by something and someone new. This proves to be true when she walks into the room later on, cloaked in a towel, with a stranger lounging around and casually reading “The Great Gatsby.” This won’t be the last they see of each other. Their lingering eyes don’t suggest that they want it to be either.

He’s Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), a self-professed intellectual type with a wardrobe that ranges from a leather clad biker gang member to a Hollister store model to a shirtless and tattooed bad boy. Hardin is hard to pin down, and so is the film when he and Tessa flirt and fondle and eventually begin to date. Is this a romance? A drama? Both? I left confused, unsure if I had been served my dessert before my meal, or if the entrée was supposed to be so sweet and occasionally sour. After looks like an R-rated movie – and sometimes has the heavier material to match it – that’s been told with an airbrushed, PG-13 palette. Breed the style of Gossip Girl with the hot and heavy passion of a cheap romance novel that you’d find in the front of most Wal-Mart’s and this movie might as well be the end result.

I didn’t hate this movie though. Sure, Tiffin can’t play the male romantic lead the least bit convincingly, and frankly he doesn’t seem to know how to act naturally on-screen. And so much of the movie rests on the shoulders of Josephine Langford, who evolves her material to something just above schlock and just below believability. The movie’s strengths, and the dependable direction from Jenny Gage, can be found in the more minute details. That awkward first class in the big auditorium setting. Beer pong played in front yards, roof dwelling day drinkers, and old homes with over-priced rent furnished with old couches and chairs. After isn’t a film you’ll remember or one you’ll necessarily love, but it does enough things right to exist in that uncomfortable middle ground where I wouldn’t recommend the movie nor would I protest it being seen. I even kind of admire how much the movie trusts its own ridiculousness; that doesn’t make the bumpy ride any smoother or any more deserving of the expected dramatic eye rolls and heavy scoffs. If you’re going to eat crap, it might as well be something that makes your heart race.

“It was all a lie.”

Rating: 2 out of 5

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