Movies

The Plot Of ‘After,’ The One Direction Fan-Fiction Teen Romance, Recreated With Reviews

Aviron Pictures

Occasionally, there are movies that are more entertaining to hear critics describe than actually see. Chief among this genre are weepy Nicholas Sparks adaptations, whose combination of predictable tropes and out there plotting is consistently compelling (who among us could forget Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth bonding over saving sea turtle eggs from a hungry raccoon?).

While we don’t have a new Nicholas Sparks movie, there is After, a teen romance that began as One Direction fan-fiction. Which, thanks to the preposterously successful Fifty Shades of Grey franchise — which began as Twilight fan fiction written under the pen name “Snowqueens Icedragon” — is a totally cromulent way to start a franchise now.

The film adaptation of After, which opened this past weekend, also stars someone named “Hero Fiennes-Tiffin,” who I learned today is not only Ralph Fiennes’ nephew, but a member of Britain’s famous “Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes family.” Other cast members include the model Khadijha Red Thunder and Guam-born rhyming named popstar Pia Mia. This thing is awash with incredible names! I brought back Plot Recreated With Reviews to see what else we could discover.

The origin story of After is more interesting than the film itself. This tale of college love and lust began life as a piece of One Direction fan fiction, putting a bad boy version of Harry Styles in a hot and heavy love affair with a bookish, sheltered freshman girl. Several character name changes and five bestsellers later, Anna Todd’s After series has now been adapted into a big-screen romance. [AV Club]

After — named for the fact that Tessa categorizes her life as “before Hardin” and “after” — opens with some narration about how certain moments in life seem to define a person [Roger Ebert.com]

Josephine Langford of Wolf Creek and Wish Upon is Tessa, whom we meet as she’s delivered to Atlanta’s Rossmore University by her helicopter divorced mom (Selma Blair) and still-in-high-school beau Noah (Dylan Arnold) [Roger’s Movie Nation]

…who behaves more like a brother to Tessa, until he gives her a quick peck on the lips as a most underwhelming farewell. [Roger Ebert.com]

STEPH

Tessa has been sheltered, dating her mom-approved “nice guy” boyfriend since forever and she and mom and that boyfriend are all blown away when she moves into a dorm room with worldwise, sexually omnivorous upperclasswoman Steph (Khadijha Red Thunder), all fishnet stockings, piercings, tattoos and promises of getting Tessa into all the clubs where you “don’t even need a fake.” [Roger’s Movie Nation]

At a frat party, Tessa, in an outfit so modest that one girl snickers at it as if it were a sackcloth, gets drawn into a game of Truth or Dare, a surefire way to reveal that (duh!) she’s still a virgin. [Variety]

Steph is how Tessa eventually meets a faster crowd — mean-girl flirt Molly (Inanna Sarkis) and brooding Brit-hunk Hardin [Roger’s Movie Nation]

…a bad English boy with tattoos and a Ramones t-shirt who happens to be the son of the school’s chancellor [The Film Stage]

Aviron Pictures

HARDIN

[Hardin is] played by Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, the 21-year-old nephew of Ralph and Joseph Fiennes, who has dagger eyebrows, expensive hair, and a smirky overripeness that suggests the second coming of Jonathan Rhys Meyers. [Variety]

He’s British and has tattoos. She has a ponytail and occasionally dresses like a boho peasant. What else do you need to know? [AV Club]

THE MEET CUTE

Those two, by the way, meet when he’s sitting in Tessa’s dorm room, refusing to leave, after she gets out of the shower. [Roger Ebert.com]

She asks him to leave so she can change, he tells her not to flatter herself. Before he exits, he stands close to Tessa, stares directly into her eyes and says things like, “Trying to imagine this one at a party, not seeing it.” [The Muse]

“Hardin is complicated,” someone warns Tessa. And that’s not all he is. Hardin is deep. Hardin is trouble. [Variety]

He’s damaged goods, but you already knew that. [The Film Stage]

BOOKS

He is Every Romantic Antihero of British Fiction rolled into one — the rude Mr. D’Arcy of Pride and Prejudice, sulking, sad Rochester from Jane Eyre, man-with-a-secret Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. He can quote, at length, from those books. [Roger’s Movie Nation]

The two eventually bond over their shared love of fiction books. [Roger Ebert.com]

Spotting a book on Tessa’s shelf, Hardin comments, “The Great Gatsby, that’s a good book.” [The Hollywood Reporter]

TATTOOS

When Hardin takes Tessa to his secret place — a dock on a lake (he’s sensitive!) — she strips and puts on his Ramones T-shirt, and we sense her subjugation is nearly complete. [The Wrap]

He inquires about her high school boyfriend Noah and she describes him as “nice.” “Isn’t that just another word for boring?” Hardin asks. [THR]

The first time Hardin takes off his shirt we think, “Uh-oh, he’s got about as many tattoos as Max Cady.” [Variety]

Look, he’s got a rose on the back of his hand. A flock of birds on his forearm. A King and Queen of Hearts on his middle and ring fingers. A mystical game board on his back. [Variety]

There’s a row of what appear to be guinea pigs wearing sunglasses on his forearm. [Roger Ebert.com]

They even gave Hardin what appears to be Styles’s third nipple on his lower abdomen (in After, it’s obscured by a tattoo, but a One Direction fan would spot it immediately.) [The Muse]

Letting us glimpse those tattoos, one by one, over time is as close as the movie comes to character development. [Variety]

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MONTAGE

Naturally, they are fated to be together. [Roger’s Movie Nation]

What follows is an endless stream of montages set to contemporary pop music that do the heavy narrative lifting. [The Film Stage]

A skinny dip here, a midnight sneak-into-the-library to read her romantic literature there, signs of trouble — warnings from interested third parties. [Roger’s Movie Nation]

…some very polite foreplay. [Roger Ebert.com]

FOREPLAY

They almost kiss, but instead, their faces simply hover right next to each other. One probably could chart the progress of their relationship in terms of his face hovering over different parts of her body. [Roger Ebert.com]

The PG-13 eroticism is mostly derived from close-ups of fingers gingerly breaching waistlines before cutting to its stars’ faces struggling to convey “Is this OK?” or “I think this is OK” or “You want it to be OK.” [The Wrap]

Whenever Hardin touches Tessa slowly, grazing the back of her neck with his pointer finger, or examining the waistband of her panties, or breathing heavy into her ear, the music stops. Ambient sounds take over and are quickly lowered in the mix to give way to labored panting just short of moaning. [The Muse]

Their romance leads to Tessa cheating on Noah with Hardin — while Hardin is drunk and while Noah is asleep in her dorm room, no less. [The Muse]

“I want you!” Tessa breathlessly declares. “Are you sure?” Hardin carefully asks. He doesn’t take any chances. “Do you want me to stop?” he queries, before ripping open a condom wrapper. [THR]

FORESHADOWING?

For a while, though, the romance between Tessa and Hardin is so swoony and idealized that about all you can think is, What’s the catch? [Variety]

It’s right there, in English Literature 101. [Roger’s Movie Nation]

They duke it out over Pride and Prejudice — she calls it feminist and empowering, he scoffs that “love is a transaction.” [The Wrap]

“Elizabeth Bennett just needs to chill…” [Roger’s Movie Nation]

Their exchange sounds cut-and-pasted from book reports, because for the entire rest of the movie, they, and everyone else, talk like monosyllabic grade-schoolers. [TheWrap]

SEX

The story’s timing and the direction do her sexual-awakening trajectory no favors when the big loss-of-virginity moment, initiated by her, comes almost immediately after Hardin bitterly chokes out an I-hate-dad memory in which father’s drunkenness indirectly led to the rape of his mother, while he watched, helplessly. Um, here’s your nookie prize for opening up? [The Wrap]

They do have sex, after the love-skeptical Hardin asks Tessa to move in with him, and there’s an inevitable snag in the relationship shortly after, having to do with a couple of Hardin’s drama-hungry friends. Much pouting follows. [Roger Ebert.com]

CONFLICT

At one point, Tessa’s mom, played by Selma Blair, shows up and catches Tessa making out with this campus stud, and she says: Can’t you see? You’re throwing your college career away! I’m cutting you off! She’s speaking from experience (Tessa’s dad abandoned the two of them) [Variety]

Hardin, as we learn, has some daddy issues. They come out at a pre-wedding reception for his father, played by Peter Gallagher [Variety]

…who makes us wonder why Hardin speaks with a British accent and his dad doesn’t [THR]

And then the movie’s dark secret is revealed — except that it’s barely a secret at all, or at least not one that we haven’t seen a dozen times before. [Variety]

What the viewer doesn’t see, and doesn’t learn until much later on in the film—long after Hardin and Tessa get together, she loses his virginity to him, and they move in together—is that Hardin was dared to make Tessa fall in love with him [at the truth or dare game]. He She’s All That-ed her! [The Muse]

CONCLUSION

It’s so lame as to make you weigh your life up to this point, and what inspired you to waste 105 minutes on this drivel. [Rogers Movie Nation]

That After is already a troubling movie about falling for the troubled makes the ridiculous third-act reveal about Hardin’s motivations feel like an unneeded extra layer of psychological torture. There are twists, and then there are twists of the knife. In the real world, the story of “After” would be the set-up for a tale of righteous vengeance, or at least an all-in barn-burner about obsession and carnality. But it’s the heart-emoji OMG shell on an SOS romance that makes After not just bad, but worrisome. [The Wrap]

After is remarkably horny and corny to the point of embarrassment. A generation of young women will definitely learn how to masturbate because of it. [The Muse]

Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient, Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love, and now Hero Fiennes-Tiffin in After. How many young women have learned to pleasure themselves to a member of the Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes family through the ages? I draw a bath every St. Smithin’s Day in their honor.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.

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