What went wrong with the After adaptation?
With the final After movie being set to release later this year, I think it’s time to delve back into the storm of Harry Styles smut. In other words, let’s talk about After by Anna Todd.
Okay, hear me out.
I was finishing up grade six when I discovered Wattpad and, at the prime age of 12, had found the forbidden fruit that was fanfiction. It wasn’t something I was looking for, but merely stumbled upon as I was sifting through the app’s ‘top ten stories’ that week.
After by Anna Todd: A Fanfiction about Harry Styles.
Seemed interesting enough. I loved One Direction, and Harry Styles was so dreamy (still is), so I thought, “why not give it a read?” I spent all day on my iPad, scanning what had been written thus far; and yearning for more, as I had to wait week by week for a new chapter. Tessa and Harry’s love story had my stomach swimming with butterflies. Over the years, I continued to read all four books that were: the After series.
Anna Todd accumulated over a billion hits on this beloved fanfic, with millions of comments being left on each chapter. There had to be something inside that led to readers wanting more. For me, I had never been kissed or experienced love, which led me to believe that their love (Harry and Tessa’s) was one written in the stars (which might be a whole other article to write about). Now that I’m older and have experienced relationships (toxic and all), I know that their love was, in fact, not romantic nor fairytale-istic, but mentally draining and lethal. And the stereotypes… ugh, don’t get me started, otherwise a rampage will well and truly be underway.
…Oop, too late.
You can imagine my glee when I found out the series was turning into a movie. Who was going to play Harry? What actors would represent One Direction? Oh boy, I was so damn excited, despite now being 18 and not reading these books since a young teen, I was definitely still going to the theatre to watch.
The year is 2019. It’s a 9:00pm session. Popcorn in hand, I take my seat, anxious to see the book to movie adaptation.
10:50pm, I’ve chewed my lip off in anger and I’m sitting in my reclined seat, complete disappointment etched all over my face. What the actual fuck did I just watch? I look to my left; my partner’s face is of pure confusion. I’m embarrassed that I begged him to come and watch this movie with me.
Let’s dive further.
Where the actual f was any storyline during the entirety of the first After movie? Where was the character development? Is the director not embarrassed?
Similarly, to the book, we start with Tessa packing her belongings and moving to college (yay girl, here’s to new beginnings). After a mere *two seconds* of dialogue from our Tess, music blasts over the scene and we see her driving to her new home. For the entirety of these movies, music overpowered the scene. Each time I began to feel like character development was coming, or an emotional scene was about to be upon us, the music killed the vibe. You could just tell that the budget of these films was wasted on soundtracks.
As a reader, we get the purity of being able to envision characters, emotions, locations, and how a scene plays out. And a movie is meant to bring our fantasies to life, in (yes) a short but sweet way, but still… c’mon. As a viewer, I felt the adaptation was a letdown. The representation of Anna’s created characters seemed to portray the complete opposite as to how she described them – and as a reader, I felt the same. If you’re going to write about toxicity, you need to show toxicity.
Being one of the first characters introduced in the book and movie, we see that Tessa’s mum is oddly nice. In the film, she acted like a protective guardian, nurturing her only child; comforting and ‘normal.’ A drastic difference from how she was described in the books, which was kind of important. In the books, her overbearing safeguarding led to a strong divide between her relationship with her daughter. This had me thinking, ‘did this director even read the book?’ To me, it felt like a cop out to make her mother ‘nice’; it was a way to drop the conflicting storyline (from the book) and centre the movie more on just Hardin and Tessa.
I remember sitting in the theatre and seeing Tessa take her communal shower. Don’t think I’m weird, but I was so excited to watch this scene play out… It’s the first time she meets Hardin! In the books, her clothes fall on the wet ground, and she has to scurry back to her dorm room clenching her towel to source new (and dry) clothes. When she opened the door, I was pinching myself. There he is… the man of the hour. My pinching was quickly followed by a loose fall of the hand, as I was disappointed to see a non-pierced guy and a mere attractive looking, slightly tattooed, run-of-the-mill male. What happened to the way he was so described in the novels? He was still cute, but Hardin was meant to have curly hair, a lip piercing, and covered in ink. Huh? His entire representation was centred around being a ‘bad boy’ (in other words, stereotypically malignant). Throughout each movie, Hardin’s violent representation wasn’t shown nearly as much as it was in word form. Isn’t that what the whole book centred itself upon? Tessa trying to mend Hardin’s behaviour, and constantly having to deal with toxic and mentally abusive retaliations?
Although it still lacked, the books detailed important moments that led to certain plotlines and character developments. This was either twisted on screen, or completely ignored. Let’s discuss the bet. The freaking bet! The entire first movie plot is based upon Hardin gambling with his fellow fraternity friends that he can, in fact, take Tessa’s ‘virginity’ and, in exchange, be granted money from those who dared him to do so. This shock storyline was completely manipulated in the film adaptation in order to turn the scene P.G. appropriate. Reading these scenes in the book made me terrified of ever trusting men (and rightly so, because wtf) and made me wince for the fictional character that was Tessa. In the books, Hardin was so gruesome about taking Tessa’s virginity that he even took “evidence” to his friends to prove he’d done the deed (???? Um, wtf dude). In the movie, the bet was for him to make Tessa fall in love with him. I was patiently waiting for this plotline to unravel, only to be met with disappointment. Where was the shock factor? In all honesty, I was bored.
Scenes from the movie didn’t match the written-form energy. We read where Hardin’s anger stems from and how his past traumas led to a strong rivalry in his relationship with his father. Where was this revolutionary discovery in the movie? If you had never read the books, you’d gather he’s sad because his father is remarrying. Like okay… I get that must be hard, but it’s no excuse to be a total dick (Like… get therapy??). In the book, it’s described heavily how his father was an abusive alcoholic who allowed for and partook in wrongful and violent betrayals towards Hardin’s mum. If nothing else, that at least provides more context for Hardin’s behaviour. So, why change the storyline?
I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed reading these books when I was younger. I was full of nervous energy and physically felt Tessa and Hardin’s spark with each word written. So, I was expecting a little more than what was given to me via screenplay. I understand that it must be difficult to fit ninety-eight chapters into an hour and a half movie, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that I didn’t get butterflies once. Overall, this movie was a flop. You’d think with the reviews received, the directors would do something about it, but each new release was met with the same confusion. No storyline, no sense of any conflict, no character development; but wait! At least there were pop music montages?! Ugh.
If you have read this book, you would understand that the storyline was damaging and problematic. A college-style 50 Shades of Grey. It was okay to enjoy it, but it’s important to remember that love doesn’t, and shouldn’t, look like that. Nonetheless, I hope you agreed with my rant.