Are teen romance “bad boys” as dreamy as we think? : This year’s “After” adds to concerns about the way romance is sending the wrong messages

By Vanessa Rupertus

Elm Staff Writer

The year’s popular teen romance movie, “After,” hit theaters on April 12, debuting at a lackluster $6 million.

Though the story itself wasn’t particularly noteworthy, the nature of the relationship between main girl Tessa Young (Josephine Langford) and resident bad boy Hardin Scott (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin) has left many critics and viewers a bit disturbed.

“After,” directed by Jenny Gage and written by Susan McMartin, is an adaptation of Anna Todd’s young adult novel of the same name.

Originally, the novel was a Harry Styles (of One Direction fame) fan fiction that Todd posted on Wattpad, a social media platform where writers—especially fan fiction writers—can share their work, before she tweaked the story and turned “Harry Styles” into “Hardin Scott.”

Interestingly enough, this is the formula another popular and problematic romance franchise, “Fifty Shades of Grey”—which took its inspiration from Stephanie Meyer’s ‘”Twilight”— followed.

Many found fault in the normative clichés found often in YA work, with Tessa playing the “innocent and pure virgin” and Hardin filling the role of the “tortured bad boy.”

Hardin’s character comes complete with an unhealthy dose of violent tendencies, daddy issues, and leather jackets. And, of course, there’s all that hyper-sexualized tension ever-present between the two.

This sexually-charged relationship has caused the movie to be labeled the “’Fifty Shades of Grey’ for young adults.” The Muse’s Maria Sherman called it “horny and corny to the point of embarrassment.”

Many take issue with the film’s problematic portrayal of relationships and sex, worrying about its potential negative impact on teen viewers who are already barraged by unrealistic romances in fiction.

Critics were quick to point out the cringe-y ways Hardin hits on Tessa, particularly the parts where he seems to fetishize her virginity. In one scene, he comments how a dress she wears is “white and virginal-looking.”

The Daily Dot’s Marisa Losciale, combatting the rampant unhealthy tropes in YA literature, put together a list of “10 of the best sex positive books for teens,” noting how, while it may be an “awkward” subject to broach, teens deserve to be spoken to honestly about sex.

She lists “Cherry” by Lindsay Rosin and “Girl Sex 101” by Allison Moon, among other books.

Meanwhile, the carnality of Tessa’s relationship with Hardin seems to overshadow her self-autonomy and decision-making.

Despite Hardin’s frequent less-than-gentlemanly behavior toward her, she finds herself unable to pull away from him.

“[Hardin] treats [Tessa] like sh*t, but she can’t resist how good he makes her feel…sexually.” Newman-Bremang said.

“After” received a Metascore of 30/100, as well as a mediocre 6/10 on IMDb, averaged out of nearly 4,000 reviews.

The severe disapproval from critics, however, hasn’t deterred the #Hessa fans from throwing money at the silver screen.

Of course, many will continue to swoon over Hardin Scott’s body while ignoring his problematic personality.

This faithful following affirms Newman-Bremang’s firm statement: “You can either get off or get a nice love story, not both.”

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