The new young adult romance After is not quite dullsville, but it assiduously avoids real drama. Anytime the storyline sets up the potential for explosive conflict — a wedding cake begging to be toppled, a mother walking in on her daughter astride a half-naked young man — the characters turn away. What should be the movie’s hot moments are barely spiced.
I would think that the creative team — director Jenny Gage, screenwriter Susan McMartin and novelist Anna Todd — know the minds of their imagined viewers better than I do. But I would argue they’re not communicating their story’s passion as well as they might have.
The plot is simple: Only-child Tessa (Josephine Langford) heads to college with a wardrobe of sister-wife dresses, where her sizzling-hot lesbian roomie (Khadijha Red Thunder) introduces her to broody British hunk Hardin (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). Hardin seduces Tessa by showing her his favorite lake, a good excuse to bare his lean torso and two dozen benign tattoos. Tessa suddenly acquires a Ramones T-shirt, denim jacket and shorter skirts. They practice safe sex (thank you). People try to tear them apart. Et cetera.
The action is confined to a single semester entirely free of temporal references, like holidays or midterms or weather, save for the inevitable rainstorm reserved for the lovers’ big fight — which is neither big nor much of a fight.
After began as fan fiction about Harry Styles, the tattooed pin-up from U.K. boy-band One Direction, here renamed “Hardin,” perhaps because “Dick” and “Peter” seemed too on the nose. Whether Tiffin and Langford can parlay this milquetoast effort into an actual movie career is anyone’s guess. They’re both model perfect and credibly cast and don’t embarrass themselves. So, maybe. At least that would justify the movie’s unhelpful title.