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Movie review: Predictable college-set adaptation ‘After’ shows plenty of partying and sex

Parents need to know that "After" – a college-set romance based on Anna Todd's best-selling novel – deals frankly with sex. Despite a lack of actual nudity, several scenes feel very sexually explicit and include kissing, intimate touching, implied oral sex and the loss of virginity. But the main characters (played by Josephine Langford and Hero Fiennes Tiffin) don't rush into sex despite their intense attraction, and all scenes are consensual. There's both same-sex and opposite-sex kissing. Parents are portrayed as struggling to overcome flaws themselves, including alcoholism and broken marriages. Partying, with alcohol and drugs, is depicted as a fact of college life. Teens may pick up positive messages about love and friendship, but they could also walk away with superficial notions of romance and college life.

WHAT'S THE STORY?

"After" begins on the day Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) is leaving home for college. Her mother, Carol (Selma Blair), is struggling to let go, especially when she meets her daughter's partying dorm roommate, but she's reassured because Tessa has always been responsible and hardworking. Tessa has also had the same boyfriend since she was a kid – but that changes when she meets handsome, British-accented, poetry-reciting rebel Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). The pair are set up in a Truth or Dare challenge at a raucous college party where the straitlaced Tessa feels woefully out of place. They bond, and then spar over their readings of classic novels. The more Tessa falls for Hardin and starts letting go of her rules and exploring her own desire, the more her structured world begins falling apart.

IS IT ANY GOOD?

Despite a predictable storyline and cliched romance, "After" works, thanks in large part to the heartfelt performance of its young star, Josephine Langford. As Tessa, Langford appears in almost every scene, and with the camera regularly close in on her face, she conveys a sincere mix of self-restraint and hunger for new experiences, confidence and fragility. She's a credible college first-year student, and we believe her and feel for her as a young woman falling in love for the first time. What comes off as less authentic is the story's "Pride and Prejudice"-inspired romance, based on the cult One Direction fan fiction published by author Anna Todd on the site Wattpad and later as a book series.

The tale requires that Hardin appear to be both Tessa's opposite – brooding, experienced and rebellious, despite his father's top university post and wealth – and also her equally vulnerable soul mate. Tiffin has the budding charisma and looks (he is a Fiennes, after all) to play the romantic lead, but his character here is contrived mostly as a device for Tessa's evolution. After is likely to attract a heavily female audience, but it could struggle to find its market. More mature viewers might find it too formulaic, while parents may keep younger teens away because of the explicit content.

RATING AND CONTENT

Recommended for ages 15 and older

Quality: 3 out of 5

Positive messages: 3 out of 5

Positive role models: 2 out of 5

Violence: 0 out of 5

Sex: 4 out of 5

Language: 0 out of 5

Drinking, drugs, and smoking: 4 out of 5

Consumerism: 0 out of 5

MOVIE DETAILS

In theaters: April 12, 2019

Director: Jenny Gage

Studio: Aviron Pictures

Genre: Romance

Run time: 106 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13

Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org.

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