Go on. Hurt me.” — Me, as the opening credits rolled.
We’re four movies into this godforsaken franchise, and I know what’s coming. I steel my nerves, like those burly, bearded dudes who take turns slapping each other in tournaments. This one’s gonna smack the fillings out of my teeth, and I’m ready for it. Even that stupid-ass title sounds like something a four-year-old would call a story she tells her dolls at tea time. So go on, After Ever Happy, dunk my head in the toilet if you have to. Give me the purple nurples. I can take it all.
By now, these After debacles have settled into a reliable pattern, much like the James Bond films. Or Montezuma’s Revenge. Let me break it all down for you: These movies are built around the rancid, retching relationship between Hardin (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin) and Tessa (Josephine Langford). She’s an aspiring young author. He’s a violent, hard-drinking, pill-gobbling, world-class douchebag. They spend most of these movies screaming, sobbing, and chucking things at each other, like they’re in a half-assed version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
The After movies usually begin with Hardin and Tessa in mid-squabble. He’s usually done something unforgivable, for which she promptly forgives him. Then, they engage in passionless sex that resembles two actors on a movie set, going through the motions for a paycheck. Somewhere in the middle of the film, Hardin will cook up another atrocity. This time, he gets wasted and burns his mother’s apartment building to the ground. No, I’m not joking. He goes on the run. Tessa forgives him. More passionless sex. He beats up one of her friends and tries to cheat on Tessa. He barfs up noodles on the girl before they can kiss. Tessa forgives him. More passionless sex.
One of the worst things about this series is how the writers tease you by having the characters almost behave like actual human beings. In every film, including this one, Tessa will snap and decide she wants away from Hardin for good. And every time, like a blithering idiot, I perk up. She’s finally gonna do it! She’s finally gonna be free! Nope. Two or three scenes later, they’re dry-humping again, like two lifeless marionettes tangled in each other’s strings.
These cockamamie movies began life as young adult novels, by Anna Todd. She wrote a series of fanfics, where Hardin is a stand-in for Harry Styles. I’ll just say it: If Harry Styles is anything like Hardin, he needs to be in jail. At the very least, he owes the world an apology for simply inspiring this insipid trash.
It honestly bothers me there are people in the world who think this is what love is supposed to be like. “Love is something you survive,” to paraphrase a character in this movie. The best you can hope for is to live through it. Forrest Gump may not be a smart man, but he knows way more about what love is than anyone in this entire movie.
What’s worse, all the “friends” in Hardin and Tessa’s orbit adhere to this same stunted philosophy. When Tessa does try to break away, they talk her out of it. “Try and pretend like you’re moving on,” one character urges, knowing full well Tessa and Hardin will get back together. Even Tessa’s mother (Mira Sorvino) is in on it: “You’re the only person she listens to, Hardin. What’s best for her is up to you.”
As for the actors, I’ve spent this franchise trying to be nice. After all, Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep couldn’t keep this dialogue from smelling like rotten eggs. How could Fiennes-Tiffin and Langford? At this point, both actors have the energy of partners in the fifteenth hour of a dance marathon. I thought either could drop any time. The other characters have been passed from actor to actor so many times, I’m not even sure who’s who anymore.
Are you guys ready for a real wiffle bat to the Nutter Butters? They’re making more of these godawful movies. Apparently, the fifth film has already wrapped, and a prequel is in development. Seriously, if they keep releasing these flippin’ things, the Seventh Seal is going to open. The seas will boil and the sky will start raining toads. On a personal level, if they’re gonna keep shoveling this stuff into theaters, I’m going to have to come up with a safe word. This is about all the pain I can handle.
95 minutes. R. On demand.