"After" months of waiting, the long-anticipated sequel to the cinematic masterpiece After, After We Collided, finally premiered on online streaming services Oct. 23. Hardcore fans of the absurd love story, like myself, eagerly spent seven dollars to watch as soon as possible. I wish I could say I was lying, but after seeing TikToks of Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) running after an ambulance screaming “Tessa!” in his British accent (that’s just a little bit too posh for a trashy teen romance), I wasn’t able to resist. Looking back, I wish I had.
[Warning: there will be spoilers for both After and After We Collided ahead.]
For those who don’t obsess over every piece of news and media concerning singer Harry Styles, After is a movie franchise that originally began as a Wattpad story in which Harry Styles, portrayed as a bad boy, falls madly in love with bookish, chaste Tessa Young (Josephine Langford). The story takes place at the fictional Washington Central University where classes only exist when it’s convenient to the plot. Of course, in order to be converted to a published book series and then a movie franchise, Harry Styles had to become Hardin Scott. Styles hasn’t commented on the series.
The first film was, as previously stated, a masterpiece — a comedic masterpiece. Every time Tessa made a point to demonstrate she’s not like other girls or Hardin explained how misunderstood he was, I couldn’t help but laugh. Despite how perfect their relationship seemed to be, it fell apart at the end of the first movie when Tessa discovered that Hardin only started pursuing her because of a dare. Surely, that should have been the end of the series. A couple of kids in college date for three months, discuss novels like Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights, move in together prematurely (I still don’t understand this plot point) and then the girl finds out the guy was dating her to win a game of Truth or Dare and dumps him. But what would After be if we didn’t know what happened after After?
In After We Collided, the terrifying reality of watching a fanfiction turned book series turned movie franchise sets in before Hardin even makes an appearance, as the Wattpad Studios logo appears on the screen in all of its glory. Don’t worry though, Hardin shows up soon enough. He’s in a junkyard, presumably hungover, and, in true After fashion, this is never explained. It’s a month after he and Tessa broke up and Tessa is starting an internship at a publishing company, which transforms her from a coy college freshman into a party animal. She goes commando, gets wasted at a club with her coworkers and drunk booty calls Hardin from a hotel room the company paid for. And this is just on the second day of her internship. You might ask why the company would invite their brand new 18-year-old intern on an overnight trip where the sole purpose is to get drunk at a club and talk to investors, but worry not, there is an explanation for this. The explanation is that it’s just a vehicle for Tessa and Hardin’s sex scene. And, great news, this is true for the rest of the movie, too. If there is a scene in which Tessa and Hardin are not getting it on, it’s a set-up for getting Tessa and Hardin in a situation where they will get it on. In this sense, After is similar to Fifty Shades of Gray, except for its thirteen-year-old audience who now think it would be cute to have a boyfriend with anger issues so they can inspire him to change.
If you remove all of the sex scenes and pointless arguments between Tessa and Hardin, there are maybe three lazy narratives. The first is Tessa’s wild success at her internship. She fits in great with the team, which includes nerdy but hot Trevor Matthews (Dylan Sprouse) who clearly only exists to provide Tessa with an alternative suitor to Hardin. Tessa does so well at this job that by the end of the movie they’re asking her to move hours away for a promotion. They even tell her to bring Hardin along with her. (Remember that these are two teenagers who have been dating for a few months, not a married couple in their thirties.)
The other somewhat important storylines in After We Collided are frankly pretty boring. They center around Tessa and Hardin’s respective daddy issues, which seem to only exist so we feel bad about criticizing the characters. We can’t hate on Hardin for being possessive, aggressive, or arrogant because he went through a traumatic event when he was eight. We’re also supposed to fawn over how Hardin’s nightmares disappear when he sleeps with Tessa, even though that’s a trope The Hunger Games already did better. That’s not to say that characters with childhood trauma shouldn’t be in teen movies, but that trauma should not only exist to advance the romantic plot and absolve the characters of responsibility. It cheapens the severity of going through a horrible experience at a young age.
Despite all of this, there are two redeeming aspects to After We Collided. The first is its comedic quality. Even when you’re shaking your head in disbelief at Tessa and Hardin’s weird codependence, you can still get a laugh from Dylan Sprouse’s monotonous performance as Trevor. If you make it far enough into the movie, you’ll even get a chance to laugh at the now-infamous ambulance-chasing scene. The other redeeming facet of this movie is that it’s self-aware. It’s a fanfiction film, and it knows that. The movie plays to its strengths, and unfortunately for some viewers, that means constant love scenes, dysfunctional angst and other stuff that fills preteen daydreams. It’s not the healthiest representation of a relationship, but that’s not what it’s trying to be. It’s trying to be dramatic, sexy and fun to watch. It’s trying to make you fall in love with Hardin Scott as much as you’ve fallen in love with Harry Styles (as if that’s possible). The movie could be worse. They could’ve gotten an American with a fake British accent to play Hardin. They could’ve made Hardin sing. They could’ve tried to make After the new Twilight. Let’s just appreciate the film for what it is and be glad for these small mercies.
Thumbnail photo "Wattpad logo under magnifying glass" by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0