If there was a status that summarised my relationship with the After series of films it would be “It’s complicated”. I am completely aware that I am not the demographic for such films, and I’m just as surprised as you are that a third film (with a fourth on the way) has been granted and that I am here reviewing it. And it’s not even out of a necessity that I am doing so – there was no media screening offered – it’s because I actually wanted to.
The original After (2019) was a film I detested. I get that it was aiming for the tween market, hoping to be something of a more accessible Fifty Shades, but it was so offensively vanilla and flippant in its framing of a toxic relationship that I couldn’t even enjoy it on a “so bad it’s good” level. Then, a year later, came After We Collided. Seemingly aware that its PG-13 confines hurt the horny teen hopes of stimulation, the sequel ramped up the sex quota, becoming a near-erotic, curse-heavy melodrama that, whilst still by no means a good film, earned massive enjoyment points in the process.
Against my better judgement I was invested, so when After We Fell arrived it was only right that I witness what further complicated, infuriating, yell-at-the-screen nonsense the supposedly in love Tessa (Josephine Langford) and Hardin (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin) were navigating. I say supposedly because as much as these two characters – very much moulded in that Edward & Bella/Christian & Anastasia model – say and do all the things that suggest romantic inclinations, they’re so evidently wrong for each other that it’s hard to believe no one has taken them aside and noted that a vigorous sex life does not a healthy relationship make.
But, we wouldn’t have a movie if these people made sound decisions, so the Sharon Soboill script picks up not long after the ending of the previous effort, where Tessa has been reunited with her estranged father – truly one of the wildest reveals the last film indulged in – and her relationship with Hardin (who author Anna Todd based around former One Direction member, now queer icon Harry Styles) is, as usual, a rollercoaster of emotions as his jealousy continues to spur over her intention to move to Seattle for work – where she’ll be buddying with a handsome co-worker (a whole source of contention in the previous film) – and her blossoming friendship with a local waiter; you see, Hardin is allowed to have female friends but God-forbid his girlfriend enjoys a platonic relationship with a man.
If it isn’t already apparent, there isn’t much of a central plot to After We Fell beyond Tessa and Hardin’s relationship. Events certainly take place, but it’s more just so the two can fight about them, have sex, or, so often, a combination of both. It ultimately becomes incredibly tiresome watching these two tango when we all know they should be dancing with other, healthier people. Soboill’s script seems so intent on hitting so many different plot points that in trying to do so much she ends up with so little, failing to further these characters beyond their insulting archetypes.
There’s escapism fun to be had here though, and that’s more from an audience perspective if you’re willing to completely poke holes in the story and embrace the awfulness of the characters and their traits. Langford and Fiennes-Tiffin are battling horrific dialogue (she’s better at delivering it than he is), so it’s difficult to entirely fault them, but they are perhaps taking the material far more serious than it deserves to be. Had they leaned in to the exaggerated melodrama of it all, the film would be enjoying itself being in on the joke, rather than a product that we laugh at with wicked glee.
Whilst so much of After We Fell is a back-and-forth of irritable exchanges between Tessa and Hardin, the film’s final 30 minutes is an absolute riot of exposition that we can readily forgive the film for being about nothing. Suddenly the film becomes about something, everything, and the dynamic in play for the next chapter (the awfully titled After Ever Happy) is so pleasurably trashy that it only makes sense for it to be packaged in such a stupidly titled offering.
Strictly a film designed to service its fans, After We Fell is not the entry point for any fresh viewers, nor would I recommend to watchers outside the Wattpad generation – and if you didn’t understand that reference, you’ve already proved you’re not in the demographic (and that’s OK). Awfully constructed yet entertainingly awful, After We Fell may not feel like a complete film due to its next-movie-set-up mentality, but it’s likely to keep the fanbase satisfied in spite of all its exasperating faults.
After We Fell is streaming on Amazon Prime Video from October 22nd, 2021.