Once upon a time in 2013, Anna Todd, a massive One Direction fan and aspiring writer, published “After” on Wattpad.
The fan fiction-turned film series is based on the British boy band with Harry Styles as the damaged, seductive love interest in the toxic relationship the story centers on. If you’re a One Direction stan like me, you probably read this whole series as it was published, one chapter at a time.
Today’s theaters are full of people who used to spend hours staring at their computers reading fan fiction — now they get to watch the story play out on-screen once again with “After We Fell.” It’s so great to finally see them in person, faces illuminated by the light of the big screen.
“After We Fell” is the third installment of the film series based on the fan fiction (succeeding “After” and “After We Collided”), following Tessa Young (Josephine Langford, “Moxie”) and her boyfriend Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes Tiffin, “The Silencing”) through their tumultuous relationship once again. While some watch the “After” series simply as romance movies, fans who know how the series came to life see Harry Styles in Hardin’s character. “After We Fell” may not be the most flattering portrayal of Styles, but that is why it falls under the category of fan fiction. Fans want to experience new stories with their favorite celebrities serving as main characters, and the series delivers exactly that.
As the series progresses, it seems to revolve more around sex and less around the actual plot; one of the major turning points of the film is when Hardin has a nightmare that Tessa slept with their waiter a few nights before. He can’t look at her the same way and takes his anger out while boxing. What’s the solution to this problem? More sex. “After We Fell” is a weak narrative, with almost every conflict having to do with Hardin and Tessa’s sex life. Eventually, Tessa accepts her dream job offer in Seattle and transfers colleges to make the move. Hardin doesn’t want to follow Tessa, so the two must make their long-distance relationship work while handling family issues involving Tessa’s alcoholic father and Hardin’s mother’s new marriage.
When Hardin and Tessa do communicate with one another, which isn’t often, it’s incredibly frustrating to watch. Their relationship takes toxicity to a new level, a complaint Styles’s fans have expressed for years, considering the character’s origins.
When a series adds a new instalment, it’s exciting to see the same characters fall back into place and continue the story that was left off. In the case of “After We Fell,” four decently prominent roles were recast, making the transition from the second to the third movie notably tricky. Seeing Landon, Hardin’s stepbrother and Tessa’s best friend, portrayed by a new actor (Chance Perdomo, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”) is especially jarring considering his prominent role in the previous films (formerly played by Shane Paul McGhie, “Unbelievable”). This, combined with the already lacking plot, hinders the flow of the film.
Though “After We Fell” isn’t exactly complex in its storyline, it serves its purpose: to provide fans with the visuals they read about years ago in “After.” It’s not supposed to be an accurate portrayal of Styles during his One Direction days, and it’s essential for everyone — whether they are a fan or not — to understand this.
However, when viewed through the original lens of fan fiction, the film transforms into something long-awaited. Those who read the series alone in their bedrooms years ago are now adults, and there’s something special about revisiting the past in a new way. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting in a crowded theater with others I knew understood the context of the series. It felt like watching a movie in my living room with a group of friends I’ve long missed.
Daily Arts Writer Laura Millar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.