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Movie Review

Tessa knows who she is and what she wants. She may be a freshman in college who's facing freedom from parental boundaries for the first time in her life, but she won’t be running wild and crazy like other teens. Nope. She’s thought through her future, and she’s determined to stay the course. Tessa's a dedicated student, a dutiful daughter and a faithful girlfriend. And proud of all of it.

Granted, when she first met her college roommate—a worldly wise, porn-star wannabe wrapped in fishnet stockings, tattoos and piercings, as well as someone who claims she can get Tessa into the best clubs even without fake ID—it freaked Tessa’s mom out. But Tessa took the girl's seriously sensual vibe in stride. She can handle anything.

But when that roommate, Steph, later drags a dude named Hardin into their room, Tessa’s perspective takes an unexpected shift. He’s the sort of guy Tessa ought to easily despise, what with his moody rebel attitude and tat-dappled arms. Oh sure, his brooding good looks, his black wardrobe, his British accent and his reconditioned '65 Chevelle SS might wow other girls around campus, but not Tessa.

Well … not much.

But as Tess and Hardin keep running into each other—trading quick verbal jabs, arguing over the meaning of classic novels, exchanging "accidental" glances—Tessa starts to feel a bit unsteady. This laissez-faire lothario isn’t getting to her, is he?

I mean, she already has a boyfriend back home. And he’s her best friend, too.

But Hardin. Hardin. Hardin is …

Tessa just doesn’t recognize herself anymore.

Positive Elements

We see backstabbing and bad choices aplenty in this melodramatic romance. But we also see how the young leads here have obviously been wounded in the past by things outside their control. They find some healing as they talk through their issues and love begins to blossom.

Tessa eventually apologizes to her now ex-boyfriend, Noah, and her mom for some of the choices she makes. Noah replies, "That’s the point isn’t it? We change and discover who we are." In the abstract, that philosophical observation could be a healthy one. Most of the changes that Tessa makes, however, aren't so positive.

Spiritual Content

None.

Sexual Content

Besides her suggestive outfits—cleavage- and skin-baring clothes that most of the other female students in this film also wear—Steph’s sexual preferences seem fairly interchangeable. We see her hanging with guys but kissing a girl “friend.” In one scene, she brings this young woman back to her room. Clothes are removed (down to bras and shorts), and the two women make out on Steph’s bed. Elsewhere, Steph has her backside tatted (albeit just off-camera).

Hardin is shown shirtless on numerous occasions. In one such scene, he strips down to his underwear and jumps into a lake. Tessa puts on his black t-shirt (off-camera) and joins him. Generally, Hardin is bare-chested anytime he and Tessa begin to kiss.

The couple's physical relationship gradually progresses from gentle kisses and light caresses (including Hardin tracing her stomach and slipping his fingers barely beneath her undergarments) to heavy make-out scenes where they pull up shirts and unbutton each other’s pants. One such scene implies, but doesn't show, oral sex. During another make-out session in her dorm room, Tessa is straddling a shirtless Hardin when her mom walks in unexpectedly.

Eventually the amorous couple moves in together. They shed clothes, fall into bed and have sex. (We see glimpses of bare legs, shoulders and backs, but frontal nudity is obscured throughout the scene.) We also see the two together in a bubble bath, their bare shoulders and backs (as well as his chest) visible.

Violent Content

During a bonfire, a drunk guy leans in aggressively toward Tessa. Hardin leaps on him, and they begin punching each other. Hardin also has an emotional, angst-filled moment in which he smashes vases of flowers and other things in his family kitchen. He later smashes a bottle of alcohol on a concrete pool deck, too. Tessa tries to gather the broken glass and cuts her hand.

Crude or Profane Language

One or two uses of the s-word join a couple uses each of “d--n” and “h---.” We hear an exclamation of “oh my god!”

Drug and Alcohol Content

Teens and twentysomethings vape in dorm rooms, at frat parties, in cars and at a local bar. A campus party features lots of beer and hard liquor. An upset Hardin gets drunk swigging from a big bottle of whiskey. Tessa says she doesn’t drink, but Steph and her friend’s brow-beat her into imbibing some booze.

Tessa and Hardin discuss his dad’s drunken behavior when Hardin was a boy. We learn that his father's inebriation led to men breaking into their home and attacking Hardin’s mother.

Other Negative Elements

During one of their reckless romantic misadventures, Tessa and Hardin stay in a closed library after hours and then run to escape a chasing security guard. Tessa talks of how her father abandoned their family. A nasty, emotionally devastating trick is played on a young woman.

Conclusion

In her poem "First Fig," Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote:

"My candle burns at both ends It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends It gives a lovely light."

Whatever other interpretations you might apply to that quick-burning verse, we obviously recognize the idea of an all-consuming passion here: a sensual flame that burns too hot and too quickly for its own good.

That’s the sort of relational stuff—albeit strained through a heavy-breathing teenage filter—that After is trying to bottle. What if you met a certain someone who you couldn’t stay away from? this movie asks. What if you knew a romance was all wrong but it felt so right? Would your mind win out over your heart? After's answer is a foregone conclusion.

Based on the YA novel by Anna Todd, After features a moody male love interest reportedly modeled after boy-band singer Harry Styles. The result? An insipid, flavorless soap opera, one that comes packing a story “twist” that we’ve seen played out in teen romances countless times before.

Oh, and then there’s the youthful steaminess on display. From this couple's first smoldering glance, to their first clothed caress, to their first hit-the-sheets amour, After unabashedly fans the flames of young-and-reckless lust. The full fleshiness of their passionate embraces is kept just outside the camera’s eye, but their hyperventilating intensity is more than evident—and belabored.

My suggestion? Spend an hour reading some good poetry together instead. It’ll be time far better spent.

There are some strong messages in After that could seem exciting to impressionable tween and teen viewers. However, this movie leaves young watchers with a twisted portrait of healthy sexuality and of loving relationships. Though the film itself is technically not pornographic, its fantasy-like depiction of sex, love and romance for much of the film shares some broad similarities with pornography. (Some observers, in fact, have compared it to a teen version of Fifty Shades of Grey.) If you're grappling with this issue in any way in your family, check out these Focus on the Family resources below:

How Pornography Affects a Teen Brain

Seven Strategies to Combat Teen Porn Use

Why Women are Drawn to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey

Pulling Back the Shades

Be sure to read our review of the book connected to this movie: After.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Josephine Langford as Tessa Young; Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Hardin Scott; Khadijha Red Thunder as Steph Jones; Pia Mia as Tristan; Selma Blair as Carol Young; Dylan Arnold as Noah

Director

Jenny Gage ( )

Distributor

Aviron Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

April 12, 2019

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Bob Hoose

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
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