By Kurt Jensen
NEW YORK (CNS) — What might have been an effective film interpretation of a somewhat grounded college romance in Anna Todd’s best-selling “new adult” novel “After” (Aviron) sadly turns into a parade of wooden archetypes.
It’s undoubtedly a tough genre to get right. Todd uses two literate protagonists, the mostly chaste Tessa (Josephine Langford) and the brooding, tattooed Hardin (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), as stand-ins for the uneasy lovers of classic literature found in such novels as “Wuthering Heights,” “Jane Eyre” and “The Great Gatsby.”
There’s at least a weak moral foundation underlying this structure. The duo doesn’t immediately act on their feelings in carnal ways, for instance, preferring to build up to that by quoting passages at each other as if their English-lit seminar were a dueling field.
Hardin’s notion of a hot date is to keep Tessa in the library after closing time so he can read books to her as they hold hands and exchange longing glances. They’re seemingly out to get their varsity letters in flirtation.
In the “new adult” genre, meaning for ages 18-30, the characters don’t flaunt their perspicacity. They just steam ahead in ways meant to flatter the reader’s own literary savvy. On screen, however, director and co-writer Jenny Gage and her trio of script collaborators wade into the old tropes of the earnest “good girl” navigating her way amid new surroundings as she starts freshman year.
Roommate Molly (Inanna Sarkis) is Tessa’s foil. Molly has piercings, vapes and is briefly seen necking with another gal. For his part, Hardin has a mysterious, somewhat troubled background as the son of the college’s chancellor (Peter Gallagher).
Tessa has to decide whether she’s living just to make her mother, Carol (Selma Blair), and priggish high school boyfriend, Noah (Dylan Arnold), happy or is willing to strike out on her own and make painful mistakes along the way.
Decisions have consequences here. But it will be up to grown viewers to decide whether the story has been adapted with sufficient vigor.
The film contains a scene of sensuality implying nonmarital sexual activity with contraception use and same-sex kissing suggesting a lesbian relationship. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.