“After” is a movie of first love and first times, but let’s be real, what’s most significant about the movie is that it’s based off a Harry Styles fanfiction.
Anna Todd, or Imaginator1D, wrote “After” as a fanfiction series starting in 2013 on the storytelling platform Wattpad. The story existed in what is called an “alternate universe,” or AU, in which Harry Styles and fellow One Direction members were college students.
Back in my freshman year of high school, I was shamefully one of Todd’s readers, waiting patiently for her to update the series with a new chapter every few days. “After” was quite a wild phenomenon in my school. Girls would whisper about it in the bathrooms.
Let this be said — “After” does not represent all fanfictions. I, in my many years as a One Direction fan, have read some amazing works online. Teenage girls can have some amazing talent, especially when writing intricate, complex plotlines about their favorite band members. But to be clear, “After” is not a good fanfic.
In 2014, “After” was published as a book series, movie rights were acquired, Harry Styles became Hardin Scott for obvious copyright reasons, and voila, “After” hit theaters on April 12, 2019.
Here’s the basic plotline of the movie. Tessa, our female protagonist, is a book smart, innocent freshman in college who meets Hardin, a British bad boy with tattoos who wears a lot of black T-shirts. His personality is being grumpy. He’s friends with her roomate, Steph, who you can tell is rebellious because her hair is dyed pink, she wears crop tops and she listens to rock music.
In the book, Hardin is objectively a horrible character. Everyone knows this when they read “After.” The drama and absurdity is what makes the bad writing and cringey plot line so bearable. Hardin and Tessa’s relationship is absolutely emotionally abusive, with him manipulating and gaslighting her throughout the entire book.
So, it makes sense that in the movie, they would opt to make Hardin less of a terrible person. But the problem is that without Hardin being a horrible person, the movie really has no plot at all.
Hardin is rude to Tessa for maybe 15 minutes of the movie. The movie speeds through the build-up of their contentious relationship, which makes their sudden deep connection seem rushed and bizarre. They interact like, twice, and suddenly “can’t stay away from each other.”
Hardin is honestly just not mean or rebellious enough, which makes you wonder why it’s such a big deal for Tessa to be with him in the first place.
While the movie does attempt to make Hardin more likeable and less abusive, I’d prefer the movie keep Hardin’s character the same and instead make Tessa stand up for herself and realize she’s worth more. Instead, it just becomes every other cheesy romantic movie.
As the film is rated PG-13, it barely has any sex scenes, which make up at least a quarter of the book. This is odd considering the advertisements for the movie posed it as a story of a young woman’s sexual awakening.
It’s not like a movie needs sex scenes, but seriously, the book has been compared to its equally problematic cousin, “50 Shades of Grey.” The entire plot of the book was basically about Tessa losing her virginity.
The movie in general relies too heavily on clichés, and during serious parts of the movie the audience often burst into laughter. Lines such as, “You don’t ever have to cover up for me,” made me cringe so hard I had to look away from the screen.
The movie added some scenes that were not in the book to try to make Hardin seem like a better boyfriend. In the book, after all, he and Tessa basically just argue and have sex. They sneak into a library after dark, go to an aquarium, bathe in a clawfoot tub and run around campus in a classic romantic movie montage.
There’s one added scene that is so odd, it’s borderline creepy. While Tessa is sitting in an astronomy observatory for class, Hardin sneaks up behind her seat in the dark and whispers in her ear in his British accent the freakiest line ever: “What are you doing, Tessa? Learning about the stars?”
“After” changes all the really messed up things Hardin did to make him seem less crazy, which is good, I guess.
In the book, Hardin manipulates Tessa into signing a lease for an apartment with him after three months of dating, so that she can’t leave him. In the movie, he instead offers to let Tessa stay with him at a family friend’s apartment he is house-sitting after her mother cuts her off for dating him. That’s kind of better, but still, go live in your dorm like a normal student, Tessa.
The biggest change in the movie is the ending. The book ends with Tessa finding out a shocking betrayal from Harry — I mean Hardin. Hardin made a bet with his edgy friends to take Tessa’s virginity, which he succeeded in taking. He even saved the bloody sheets from when they did it to show his friends, which is disturbing.
In the movie, the dare is taken down several notches, with it instead being for Hardin to make Tessa fall in love with him. That’s still extremely messed up, but also cliché and less severe. It takes away so much of the dramatic horrifying factor of the reveal of his betrayal.
While the book ends with Tessa leaving Hardin — even though in the next book she takes him back after two weeks — the movie has him apologize to her in literally the weirdest way possible.
On the last day of the English class Hardin and Tessa have together, their teacher calls Tessa over. Why, you ask? To give Tessa Hardin’s final essay, which the professor says is actually meant for her.
Yes, Hardin’s final paper is a letter to Tessa about how much he loves her that references “Wuthering Heights” way too much because the one thing they have in common is they like to read classic literature. The audience in my theater actually yelled “No!” at this part of the movie because it was so unbearably weird.
So, should you see “After”? Quite frankly, yes, because it’s so horrendously awkward and cringey that you just need to witness it yourself. Is it a good movie? No, it’s terrible. But you will definitely have a good laugh and witness for yourself a movie literally based off a One Direction fanfiction.