Thursday, 15 September 2022

After Ever Happy (2022) - Movie Review

Y’know, at the fourth film in, I was honestly expecting the bottom to drop out of this series. Even with how well the After films have been doing at getting increasingly worse, yet increasingly more fun to watch, with each instalment, I thought it would get to a point where the melodrama couldn’t be pushed any harder and we’d start seeing diminishing returns. I mean, even with film series I like for reasons beyond laughing at their expense, it’s rare to see one last this long and still maintain that key engagement factor. And for a little while, it indeed looked like this was where things would start petering out. But then it decided to floor it into a brick wall and further the series trajectory to unleash what is, somehow, the new worst and new funniest entry in the series.

Those who have been riding with this series from the beginning might be a bit disappointed to learn that, compared to the last three films, there’s substantially fewer sex scenes in here. What makes that decision weirder is that all the tenuous drama between Tessa and Hardin that kept leading up to said sex scenes is still here. So, we’re basically left on the same unholy merry-go-round as in After We Fell, where the main couple are constantly on the verge of breaking-up and then deciding not to, before thinking that maybe they should, and so on. It’s all the toxic behaviour from before, on both sides, but they’re not even pretending there’s anything sexy about this, from the looks of it.

As a result, the writers (I’m just assuming that Anna Todd and screenwriter Sharon Soboil have equal share of the blame at this point) lean hard into the melodramatic tragedy in the couple’s lives, to the point where it lands hard into trauma porn territory. We see Hardin descend further into his alcoholism as a result of We Fell’s twist ending (which is recapped in such a chintzy fashion, all it’s missing is a dramatic voice-over saying “Previously on After”), and we see Tessa breaking down as she tries to keep this relationship together, while also dealing with her recovering addict father. They’re really trying to make the audience feel for the both of them, even with how insanely unhealthy all of this has been and still is, and credit to the actors, they really are doing their best with this.

But… yeah, because of how desperately this tries to be taken seriously, the first half-or-so isn’t nearly as fun as I’ve come to expect from this series. Having Hardin burn a house down was a decent way to start things out on a delirious note, and with how much of his dialogue is just the word ‘fuck’ on repeat, it’s like he’s auditioning for a John Cooper Clarke biopic, but quite frankly, that isn’t why I chose to see this. I’m more than willing to meet this series at its own level, as it keeps scratching at the bottom of the barrel from the other side, but like with Fifty Shades, I’m not as willing to deal with something this ridiculous trying to insist it’s a genuine dramatic work. Foreshadowing!

Eventually, things get so dire and Tessa officially puts the relationship on hiatus for an indeterminate amount of time. Then we cut to five months later (half-expected the on-screen text to say “Five Months After…” because that’s the kind of film this is), and we return to normalcy for this franchise. In that it has re-entered the realms of the ludicrous at full force. For a start, whoever worked in the wig department for this either seriously had it in for Josephine Langford, or just hated humanity in general, because the hair she’s been saddled with is horrific. I don’t usually get this catty about fashion choices in films, but then again, rarely does a ponytail/fringe combination make a film character look like they’re about to start sing-rapping about their humps.

And then there’s what happened with Hardin during those five months, which is both thinly detailed and contains some of the most absolute batshit writing touches of this entire franchise thus far. It tries to show that he’s gotten better and is now dealing with his alcoholism since he started going to therapy, only we’re left in the dark as far as what that progress actually entails. The closest we get is the revelation that, while he still drinks the occasional beer or glass of wine, he isn’t chugging a whole bottle of whiskey like he used to. I don’t know what’s worse: That this is supposed to show the audience he's good now, or that it tries not to make him too ‘safe’ by showing that he still drinks despite his dependency issues… which ends up making a mockery of the actual recovery process.

That is baffling enough all on its own, but what comes next is fucking gold; good Dude, I’m starting to write like Hardin now. And that’s only half of a joke, by the way, since we also discover that Hardin has written a book. A book called After. A book that he has apparently been working on since he and Tessa first met back in the first film. It’s getting published, been garnering a lot of positive attention, Hardin explains that it’s all about how anyone can be happy, regardless of how tragic their past may be, and holy shit, we have come full circle. The film based on self-insert fanfiction has now made its own existence as self-insert fanfiction part of the actual narrative. The only way this could get any better is if Hardin suddenly stopped the film dead because he had to go on tour with One Direction, or talk about how much he regrets working with Olivia Wilde.

Even as someone who likes these kinds of metatextual touches in movies (usually, anyway), I was convulsing with giggles as this lunacy took place on-screen. It is mesmerising to witness someone so blatantly act as the author’s avatar, feebly trying to impress on the audience how serious and deep their story is, as if taking one look at the title isn’t enough of an indicator of the quality of writing on display.

But where this gets even worse is with how this one action, on Hardin’s part as a character, might be the single scummiest thing he’s done so far. He wrote down everything that took place in this story, up to and including a lot of private shit to do with both himself and Tessa (without saying a word to her about any of it), and then put it all on display for everyone else to gawk at. I have most assuredly been keeping track of how possessive and hostile and just plain unhinged his actions have been throughout, but with this one move, I am now officially confused about what is supposed to be appealing about this arsehole. I mean, he could’ve at least changed the names; even Anna Todd figured that one out.

But just because this film found new lows to sink to doesn’t mean that these filmmakers are quite done yet. No, there is at least one more film to follow up on all this, along with a planned prequel film… and I can’t lie: I am still on-board for anything and everything that comes next. This shit is so goddamn stupid, so amazingly miscalculated, and now revealing itself to be so up its own arse that it’s redefining what it means to navel-gaze, that I am just in awe at its very existence. Much like with The Invitation, the degree to which this film is objectively terrible in a lot of respects is offset by just how much of a blast it is to watch for all the wrong reasons.

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