The Intense Love of a Lifetime That Falls Flat
The fourth installment of the After franchise, based on Anna Todd’s book series, After Ever Happy, takes viewers through a nightmare of a toxic relationship. The story follows the two main leads, Hardin Scott, played by Hero Fiennes Tiffin, and Tessa Young, played by Josephine Langford, as they navigate a messy entanglement while dealing with their major issues. The movie, directed by Castille Landon and produced by Voltage Pictures, was released in the United States on September 7, 2022. Unsurprisingly, the movie was nothing special. The film was what one would expect from a movie series based on a book series based on a Wattpad novel. In the words of Tessa herself, “I don’t want to survive; I want to live,” which seems to sum up the watching experience overall.
The Plot That Never Was
The movie picks up immediately where the third entry, After We Fell, left off. The viewers are thrown straight into the dramatic chaos, which only works because it is a sequel. Still, the intensity and stakes are raised drastically but ultimately fall short as each character is let off without any consequences. That’s the main issue with the plot overall. There is no payoff for anything. Hardin commits a crime, and in the next scene, he is let off scot-free. Tessa experiences something completely traumatic, and then it doesn’t matter ten minutes later. This resulted in the plot feeling shallow and almost nonexistent. Everything felt like a plot device to get Hardin and Tessa to interact with each other and argue, which also made their relationship feel forced and lacking in depth. Most of the time, there was no real character agency driving anything forward. It was all random events in time with no true correlation or consequences.
The movie also fell victim to poor pacing. Most times, it was incredibly difficult to realize how much time had passed throughout the movie. The only moment it was made clear was when the “five months later” title card appeared on the screen. Not knowing where and at what point in time the characters are in the movie takes viewers out of the watching experience. There were also an absurd amount of montages and flashbacks throughout the story that did not really add much. They mostly showed Hardin and Tessa’s happy moments, which would have been more impactful if we saw those moments shown during the story in real time. Overall, the movie felt dull and lacked clear direction. After four films in a franchise, this was a disappointment. The only time After Ever Happy works is for trashy movie nights you want to have with your friends, but there are definitely better choices.
The Writing and Performance Issue
I have to commend the cast for really trying, but the dialogue was not working, and their performances suffered because of it. The dialogue felt like it was trying too hard to be deep and poetic at the most awkward times. Even the slightly comedic lines did not really land well and felt forced. Another main issue was character consistency. Some lines of dialogue completely clash with each other; this is mostly specific to Landon’s character, who would say one thing and then quickly say the opposite without any explanation as to why this was happening. This was frustrating because it was difficult to understand character motivations and confused the relationships between the characters. Finally, the expository dialogue in some moments of the movie really breaks the tension, making it hard to be fully immersed in the plot (if there was one). The writing needed a lot of work; out of the entire two-hour movie, there were around five minutes of dialogue that worked well, and the characters ultimately felt underdeveloped.
In terms of performance, Josephine Langford did not stand out, which is concerning considering she is one of the two main leads. Once again, this is a testament to the writing. Her character feels flat and has almost no personality. The emotional scenes are when she truly stands out and shows her capabilities as an actor. She delivers when needed but feels very idle and static for most of the movie.
Hero Fiennes Tiffin’s performance was also lacking and not the best in general. Every line felt forced and disingenuous. His portrayal of Hardin felt comical instead of threatening or intimidating. The directions he was given on-screen did not help his case, which resulted in many of his emotional and intense scenes coming off as uncomfortable or just plain funny. It was difficult to get into the scene, and the emotions of the characters did not translate well.
One enjoyable performance in After Ever Happy was that of Lousie Lombard, who played Trish Daniels, Hardin’s mother. She brought a strong presence and emotional depth to the role, making her character one of the highlights of the movie. Her monologue toward the end of the movie really stood out and was one of the best parts in terms of writing and acting. She captured the essence of her character and the character’s past mistakes incredibly well. The movie should have focused more on the mother-son relationship in order to bring these characters to life, but the little bit that was given was endearing to watch.
Visuals and Sound
The movie’s aesthetic, much like everything else discussed, was lackluster. Throughout the story, there are three separate locations, but nothing is done to distinguish them from each other. One couldn’t tell whether you were in England, Washington, or New York. It was slightly disorienting not to be able to see the difference. Adding visual differences would have made the movie more interesting to watch on screen. Various color-grading could have been used to add some more color to the locations, but instead, the movie consistently looks as though it lacks color except during the intimate scenes that feature a lot of light, which ends up being counteractive and ruining the atmosphere. Similarly to the locations and coloring, the music does not add much to the scenes and ends up fading into the background without any emotional impact. There were no standout songs.
The overall cinematography was very bland and could have used some experimentation, even though that was not the intention of the film. The filming came off as very lazy through extreme close-ups, basic shots, and reverse shots. The lack of variation between shots becomes very evident after thirty minutes into the film. It’s very overdone and becomes repetitive, much like the plot of Tessa and Hardin fighting constantly. This was expected from a fanfiction adaptation, but it could have separated itself from the many by trying something new instead of taking the easy way out.
After Ever Happy followed the same path as its three predecessors and failed to offer any unique or innovative elements to the story. The plot ultimately went nowhere, and many moments were simply used to push the couple to talk to each other. The writing and, consequently, the acting were mediocre at best, and the movie did not stand out. It would be fun to watch it with a group of friends simply to watch the absurdity unfold, but other than that, there is no true entertainment value. The movie could’ve been interesting and provided important commentary on trauma and relationships, but the previous movies have established the franchise as shallow and lacking any artistic direction.
After Ever Happy is streaming on Netflix and Prime now.
After Every Happy (2022) Official Voltage Pictures Trailer