I went to see “After” with my two sisters, another trio of sisters, and three of their friends, but I was the only one who understood what it was like to be a freshman in college. My experience watching After was filled with constant laughter both at the movie itself, and at the ease with which the entire theatre built on each other’s comments. As I looked down the row the younger girls I was with, I saw that parts of the movie had them cringing and hiding their eyes from the screen. As 15-year-olds, they were in awe that anybody even younger than them was watching the movie.
Tessa Young, the heroine of “After,” has worked her whole life to be the perfect daughter, student, and girlfriend in order to land herself a spot at Washington State University. “After” takes place over the course of Tessa’s freshmen year on campus, where she is surrounded by an array of over-eager freshme, all excited to embark on their college adventure. For me, Tessa’s move-in day struck a delicate balance between realistic and unrealistic. But the movie theatre was filled with viewers more than excited to chirp at the movie.
Tessa arrives at school wearing a wholesome, pure white outfit alongside her perfect high school boyfriend and mother. They help her move into her dorm, where she has been randomly paired with a sophomore. Her new roommate sports piercings, tattoos, and fishnets. She loves red and black, and offers Tessa a JUUL to welcome her to college. Giggles filled the theater of teenage girls during that scene.
Her roommate invites Tessa to her first college frat party. Tessa wears a modest red dress. During a game of Truth or Dare, it’s revealed that she is still a virgin. The rest of the movie builds off of the game of Truth or Dare: Tessa then meets the heartthrob of the movie, Hardin Scott. She is dared to make out with Hardin. Obviously, she takes a hard pass as she has a perfect boyfriend back home…but not for long.
Through an English class, Hardin and Tessa spark a connection when they argue about the complications of the novel Pride and Prejudice. After their very public argument, Hardin woos Tessa away to a lake where they have a very private swim. We realize, as Hardin strips down, that he is covered with mysterious and edgy tattoos. After spending the day with Hardin, Tessa gets a surprise visit from her boyfriend. He is unimpressed by the friends she has made. To no surprise, their relationship ends, which only allows Hardin and Tessa’s relationship to flourish.
As the audience in the theater predicted, Tessa’s freshmen year in college turns into a honeymoon with her new boyfriend. They sneak into the library after hours to read the classics and have deep conversations about the meaning of life. The more Tessa falls for Hardin, the more she strays from the cookie-cutter perfect daughter her mother raised her to be.
Spoiler: the movie continues in just the way you would expect. Their relationship hits a rough patch, which they eventually move past, resulting in a happy ending. Relationships that were strained become mended and Hardin’s complex character gains some understanding. The experience of watching this movie was filled with laughter about the unrealistic plot. However, the audience undeniably enjoyed the predictable storyline and cliché romance of a college freshman.