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'After': Of Good Girls and Bad Boys

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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It's just not fair. The lady preteens and barely teens who attended a showing of "After," presumably to look into the crystal ball and commiserate with future peer, Tessa Young, left it all to me. I was to see what was to be with the gal who embarks on her college career and that first real love. 
 
They were much too busy chattering, texting or running back and forth to either the concession stand or the powder room to pay any attention to Katherine Langford's decent but a tad treacly portrayal of the girl next door turned co-ed. Oh well, I figured, perhaps they read writer Anna Todd's "After" series on Wattpad, whatever that is, and were only in attendance in the name of comparative literature.
 
It all has to do with fanfiction, apparently an internet democratization of belles-lettres. I'm surprised it didn't get a rise out of spell-check when I typed it. Which is proof that my fuddy-duddyism and failure to keep up with popular culture remain intact, and will surely leave me in poor straits should I unexplainably find myself a game show contestant. However, I here claim redemption in my accidental role as an Alexis de Tocqueville — the objective stranger in a
foreign land. Dissolve the memes, keystrokes and all the nomenclature that goes into the secret handshake society of anything the Brave New World claims to have invented and "After" is, after all, a romance tale no more or less than something the Sumerians may have initially carved the template for in cuneiform.
 
Stylistically, however, "After's" rather typical, coming-of-age anxieties, save for the contemporization of inserting a single mom (Selma Blair) to do lots of fretting, is more a literary cousin of the gossipy fare teenagers sopped up in the Roaring Twenties. A bit edgy and tastefully naughty, it's the traditional tome that dabbles in the onset of maturity. The idea is that although it happens generation after generation, it always seems just a tad premature, especially to parents.
 
We bemoan: Surely there must be a middle ground between seeing college as the license to rush into things adult or staying back at the old homestead to take care of Maiden Aunt Gertie until you become her.
 
That said, for all the reasons emotional and educational that said fare maintains its place just one rung up from Kiddie Lit, "After" fulfills its mission, replete with a comely heroine in Langford and a would-be but troubled prince in Hero Fiennes-Tiffin's Hardin Scott. You blink quizzically: Shouldn't Hero Fiennes-Tiffin be the character's name, and Hardin Scott the actor's? Alas, further proof that fiction may be taking over our reality, but enough about politics. This is a handsome boy with tsuris that his about-to-be lady fair is going to have to navigate before the closing credits roll.
 
You know the stereotype. He is the ubiquitously tattooed bad boy on the outside, yet capable of quoting from "Wuthering Heights" or "The Great Gatsby." But perhaps so could Hannibal Lecter. And because we've dealt with this dude in any number of beach blanket movies between 1963 and 1968, we are wary from the get-go. Even when some of his poor little rich kid mishegoss is divulged (his once abusive and since never forgiven dad is the school's chancellor), we fear he is but a wolf in training.
 
Gadzooks, man! Modernization notwithstanding, Tessa Young is our fair maiden, and we'll be damned if she can't circumvent this potential obstacle to a promising destiny. I mean, she's so sensible otherwise — studying to be an employable economist instead of an, ahem, idealistic writer. Yet there it hovers, the big distraction. We anguish ... or at least are supposed to anguish.
 
Is it not true that 'tis better to have loved and lost, then to have never loved at all? Is it fair to wish that our damsel not be distressed by this rite of spring? Of this we ponder.
 
Meanwhile, Hardin Scott's complicated circumstances can't help but wreak havoc on our uninitiated romantic's soul. Naturally there is the obligatory falling-out with Mom, who threatens to cut off Tessa if she doesn't eschew this junior Lothario. Psst. She's divorced and Tessa, in catty defense, informs the long suffering payer of her tuition, room and board that she's "sorry if things didn't work out" for her. Oy, bad. See what love can do? Later there'll be slowly peeled clues that open a window of understanding and compassion into this troublesome BMOC.
 
Whether they exonerate Hardin from his previously careless behavior is for you to decide.
 
Internet, shminternet, fanfiction or whatever, this is pulp soap opera for the PG-13 set, a schmaltzy primer about the entranceway to adulthood no matter its original method of delivery. All of which is proof positive that whether before or "After," the more things change, the more they stay the same.
 
"After," rated PG-13, is an Aviron Pictures release directed by Jenny Gage and stars Josephine Langford, Hero Fiennes Tiffin and Selma Blair. Running time: 95 minutes

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