By Ciéra Cree
Initially, to be honest, I didn’t intend to write a review about this film. For a while it seemed like it was going to unfold into a typical story similar to countless others of its theme – a girl moving away to college and falling for the wrong kind of boy – but, evidently, it amounted to something more since I am here writing this for you today.
Originally published in 2014 as a YA romance novel by American author Anna Todd, the book obtained its film adaptation in 2019, more precisely on the 12th of April, after seeing significant success. There are numerous other books in the ‘After’ series including ‘After We Collided’ (2014), ‘After We Fell’ (2014), ‘After Ever Happy’ (2015) and ‘Before’ (2015) but, to my knowledge, there currently stands as only being the one film from the selection available on Netflix.
Warning: this review contains light spoilers.
With Josephine Langford taking on the lead role of Tessa Young, a freshman and only child of a single “overprotective” mother, ‘After’ offers viewers a vicarious slice of student life through the eyes and experiences of our young female lead. Tessa is reserved yet simultaneously outspoken; she would much rather be alone reading a book than be dragged along to an alcohol-abundant party by her year-older roommates Steph (Khadijha Red Thunder) and Tristan (Pia Mia) but at the same time she knows how to stand up for herself when she really wants to.
Throughout the story we see these two sides of her emerge at differing moments – for instance, in a game of truth or dare she refuses to answer the truth or go through with the dare alternative, walking away from the game altogether to suit herself however, on other occasions, we can see that she caves into doing or going places for the sake of fitting in.
It makes sense that Tessa would want to fit in after moving to a new state away from everything that she knows but as the film progresses we learn more both about her character as well as her true desires. She has been with her boyfriend since highschool but, upon moving away, you could question whether this is because he makes her happy or because she doesn’t know of anything else. I liked Noah (Dylan Arnold) immediately; he seemed kind, thoughtful and good to her, but after she moved away to college and met Hardin (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) she opened up further to the world as well as within herself.
I appreciate how this film, although simple, carries a lot of messages. Of course there will have been many which I have missed from this first viewing but one of the predominant ones that I caught would be the importance of living a life which is truly your own, for yourself. Despite the rollercoaster of highs and lows that Tessa faces once Hardin and college develop to be a new norm, her old life becomes cast in shadow and displayed to those watching in a fresh light when they connect. Before we saw this girl as someone smart with a nice boyfriend and a helpful mum, seemingly living a perfect life, but in time we realise that she isn’t living a life that is perfect in her eyes, but rather in her mothers.
‘After’ is the birth of a young lady into the start of a future which is truly under her own agency and control. It talks to us about living, not just being alive and going through the motions of what others believe that is best for us, and it talks about love blossoming from places that are reluctant and unexpected.
We learn about Hardin who, at first glance, comes across as a somewhat arrogant jock but beyond his exterior he holds tenderness, a poetic quirky nature and remnants of pain. In the process of watching this film, likewise to how Hardin self reflects, viewers can also learn a bit about themselves too due to its many thought provoking subtopics including honesty, forgiveness and change.
Pictured: Tessa & her mother at home.
Overall I enjoyed how this film encouraged me to think, admittedly more than most of the film itself. The events were rather predictable and I struggled to click into the narrative until around half way through when it picked up and got more interesting. Although, that being said, it isn’t something that I regret taking the time to see. Tessa’s innocent demeanour colliding with that of Hardin who was notoriously deemed as a complicated “bad boy” was intriguing to see play out, especially towards the end. And the way that additional information was detailed about her mother during a conversation with Hardin was insightful and it helped me to piece together why Tessa’s previous life had been moulded in the way that it had been.
Images: Screenshots from the film by Ciéra Cree