“After” is based on an Anna Todd novel about a freshman year college romance.
But actually, Shakespeare beat her to it, leaving out the college part. He titled his version “Much Ado About Nothing.” But if his romantic comedy had been as limp as this, he’d have titled it “Much Ado About Absolutely Nothing.”
It’s a serious-minded first-real-love/first sexual experience coming-of-age drama which takes forever to make anything happen, and when it does (the “big reveal”), 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.
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).
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” (ID).
Mom freaks, but Tessa is confident she can resist the temptations of Satan herself. And to the movie’s eternal damnation, little if anything is done with this struggle.
Except that Steph is how Tessa eventually meets a faster crowd — mean-girl flirt Molly (Inanna Sarkis) and brooding Brit-hunk Hardin (Hero Fiennes Tiffin).
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. And he is catnip to smart but naive Tessa.
Let’s invite her to a frat party.
“I’m trying to picture this one at a party,” he sneers. “Just not seeing it.”
Naturally, they are fated to be together. A skinny dip here, a midnight sneak-into-the-library to read her romantic literature there, signs of trouble — warnings from interested third parties.
“He’s complicated…Be careful.”
It’s right there, in English Literature 101. Hardin lays it all out for us.
“Elizabeth Bennett needs to chill…Love is just a transcation…”
Not plain enough.
“I don’t date.”
Langford, to her credit, makes this work. She sells the heat, the attraction, the confusion. Up to a point, anyway.
Tiffin should stop using his uncles’ (Ralph and Joseph) “Fiennes” as his middle name. He’s letting down the side. As Tessa wanders through campus, through bars, in parties, more attractive, more lively guys pass her one after the other.
Tiffin isn’t up to making this guy as interesting (ahem) as he’s written (cough cough).
A tantrum here, a piece of his tortured past there, a ’65 Chevelle SS, Peter Gallagher as his university chancellor dad — nothing enlivens the character and better explains the attraction.
Slack direction (this takes FOREVER to get going) doesn’t help anybody him or anybody else. Only the women acquit themselves with honor, and with a little luck each of them — especially Langford — will find something more worthy of their talents next time around.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and some college partying
Cast: Josephhine Langford, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Selma Blair, Inanna Sarkis Peter Gallagher, Jennifer Beals
Credits:Directed by Jenny Gage, script by Susan McMartin, based on an Anna Todd novel. An Aviron release.
Running time: 1:46