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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



After, Review: Noah’s arch

After, Review: Noah’s arch

Teens to twenties romances do not come to us as just pure teenage romances, which can get terribly boring. There was Love Story, with cancer as the villain, and there was Goodbye Columbus, which had a devil-may-care heroine who invites her boy-friend to live with her family and seduces him with pre-marital sex. Also in the same milieu was When Harry Met Sally, which was drawn around the premise that men and women cannot just be friends. After has a girl brought up with old-world values who, is sexually awakened by a fellow student possessing traits that are both old-worldly and post-modern, charming and enigmatic. Sadly, there isn’t enough material in the film to do justice to the potentially appealing one-line summary, and it lands nowhere near the above-mentioned gems.

Tessa (Hardin insists on calling her Theresa) Young is driven to her new college dormitory by her mother and her boy-friend, Noah Porter. No sooner do they step into her room, they are startled by Steph, and her girlfriend, Tristan, Tessa’s room-mates in waiting, who are lesbian lovers, and a strong smell of weed permeates the air. Her mother wants to get the room changed, thinking that the two undesirable girls would have bad influences on the puritanically raised Tessa. However, Tessa assures her mother that she is strong enough not be influenced by the two.

On her first day at college, Tessa meets Hardin Scott, who is lazing in her room-mate’s bed as she gets out of the shower, naked, with only a dangling towel wrapped tightly around. Some days later, at a party, in a game of Truth or Dare, Tessa is revealed to be a virgin, and dared to 'make out' with Hardin. However, she refuses, and leaves, leaving everyone surprised, including Hardin. She calls Noah, but he is judgmental, for drinking and partying are not things that either of them associate with. She roams around the house, where she accidentally ends up in Hardin’s bedroom, where she finds the book Wuthering Heights, and Hardin walks in shortly afterwards. In Literature class, Tessa gets into a debate with Hardin about Pride and Prejudice. Hardin approaches Tessa and insists they start over, inviting her to come with him to a lake. While they swim, Hardin, who is the Chancellor’s son, tells her he cannot stay away from her, and the two kiss.

You do not need to be Charlotte/Ann/Emily Brontë or Jane Eyre to surmise that After is based on a literary work. And so it is, written by Anna Todd. Todd's writing was inspired by the music and fandom of One Direction, and the singer Harry Styles is one of the protagonists in her series, but the name was changed to Hardin Scott (legal reasons; Harry Styles was a highly negative character). She started by writing stories on her phone with the Wattpad app, dubbed the world's most-loved social storytelling platform that connects a global community of 70 million (latest figures) readers and writers through the power of story) in 2013, publishing a chapter almost daily for over a year, resulting in three books in the After series. Ann is one of the producers of the film. Anna married at 18, which is the age, more or less of Tessa. But Ann did not have her way all the way, when it came to adapting her story for the screen.

Two of her print version characters were changed from male to female and her choice for the role of Tessa, the stately Julia Goldani Telles, was replaced with the warmer Josephine Langford, due to logistic reasons. Three writers pooled their talent on After: Susan McMartin, Tamara Chestna and director Jenny Gage herself. Tamara Chestna (not credited on imdb) is a15-year veteran of the film TV industry who segued from producing into screen-writing full-time in 2015. Susan, a single mother, is a graduate from NYU Tisch School of the Arts Dramatic Writing programme. She wrote Mr. Church, starring Eddie Murphy and directed by Bruce Beresford.

Co-writer and director Jenny Gage had been looking for a project that was about coming of age and sexual awakening, told through a young woman's point of view. Say Anything is one of her most favourite films. Gage’s contributions to After include retaining the ending of Todd’s 600 page book, bringing in a condom to get a safe sex message across and the Avril Lavigne song that comes up twice. Her partner, Tom Betterton, with whom she had made her first film, the feature-length documentary All This Panic, remains phantom-writer, uncredited, though he did contribute significantly.

Take it as an ode, but the influences of Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering (don’t check on your Word/Thesaurus, for you won’t find it there; it is an old Northern England/Norse word that means ‘roaring like the wind on a stormy day’) Heights are undeniable. By bringing in scenes involving the reading or discussion of these classics and their characters, the author leaves little doubt about her own influences. Then, along the way, a whole set of opposing and complementing dichotomies form a layered textual discourse. Primarily, the clash is between the orthodox Tessa, who is an only child, raised by a single mother, never touched by anybody in her life, including her boy-friend, and the Mr. Cynical know-all, who is a romantic at heart and is metamorphosing into a slick and suave seducer. Wisely, this set of circumstances unfolds in a true to the soul narrative.

Once they reach the dormitory, Tessa and her family are instantly juxtaposed against scantily clad lesbian lovers, smoking weed. True to the soul, the soul of stereotypes. Hardin, the spoilt brat, at least at first appearances, is the son of the college’s Chancellor. Who else? Tessa is American, Hardin is British. Hardin’s father is dating the white mother of a black student, Landon Gibson,  and planning to marry her, while Hardin’s mother is scrounging a living back in London. More stencilesque stuff. Hardin and Noah (notice the name) are opposites in many ways, and yet Tessa loves both. Noah is her best friend while Hardin is somebody to whom she will say one day, “I want you now”, and take off her clothes. Since you know that Noah is a Mr. Nice Guy, whose only indulgence in life is going jogging in a group, he is bound to stand by Tessa. On the other hand, Mr. Playing Games is all muddled up, and bitter, who does not drink, but starts drinking, and throwing things around his house, when he’s depressed. Take a guess: will she stand by him and make him turn around, or not? Who gets the girl? Noah? Or his ‘arch enemy’? Though the unravelling and build-up here is different from other films in the romantic, coming-of-age films, domain, it is largely predictable. One chapter that is smoothly done, though, is the tattoo escapade.

In her debut feature, Jenny Gage fails to engage, in spite of her ability to get apposite performances all round. Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, the film’s hero, comes from the familiar Fiennes family that gave us his illustrious maternal uncles, Ralph and Joseph. His father, English actor George Tiffin, is a film director. Confidence is one thing that Hero does not lack, having played Tom Riddle, the young version of antagonist Lord Voldemort (played in the films by Ralph Fiennes), in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. You might have also seen him in Private Peaceful. I always thought that the British were notorious for their stiff upper lip mode of speaking. Oddly enough, I find Hero’s dialogue delivery such, as can best be described, as stiff lower lip. In sheer contrast, Josephine Langford’s speech, in a manner of speaking, un-American and pro-mumblican. In other words, she is Australian. Jo, as she is not surprisingly called, is the sister of actress Katherine Langford.

Watch out for Khadijha Red Thunder as Steph, the les, ultra-cool cat, who oozes sex and sizzles all along. Shane Paul McGhie makes an approachable Landon Gibson. Sincerity abounds in Noah, courtesy Dylan Arnold. Selma Blair playing Carol Young, Tessa’s mother, gets a raw deal, and her scarce scenes are done in an abrupt manner. Conforming to prototypes, with just a little deviation and novelty, are the three other members of the ‘gang’: Samuel Larsen as Zed Evans, Inanna Sarkis as Molly Samuels and Swen Temmel as Jace.

After refers to how knowing Hardin changed Tessa’s life, like a before and after ad. Tessa tells you as much, in a voice-over. At the crux of the plot lies a video recording made on a mobile phone, which brings in a suspense/flashback element, one that nobody could have guessed anyway. Enough of a Spoiler.

Aiming high, After is too predictable and idyllic for its own good. It gets bogged down in Pride and Prejudice, and fails to reach Wuthering Heights.

Rating: **


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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