Putting it nicely, After is not an easy film to sit through. Human emotion is not something that can easily be “manipulated,” and while I sincerely don’t want to use that word based on writer Sabrina Gennarino’s scripted intentions, no word better describes the gratuitous drama that each Valentino family member subjects viewers to. Despair, deceit, treachery, withdrawal – no character is safe from a gamut of emotional follies, but after a while, the endless parade of obvious baggage becomes far too cumbersome for such a dreary travel. Even worse are the motivations for these actions, presented without coherence or detail in a way that makes any sort of meaningful attachment next to impossible. After never quite tries to be anything more than a cheap tissue waster, ending on a note that almost guilts you for enjoying no parts of the ride – a truly depressing affair with a baffling amount of anger.
We learn very early on that the Valentino family harbors a dark secret, something that could tear this already crumbling family if it were to be released. Between one son’s attempt to salvage the family business (Pablo Schreiber), another’s destructive attitude (Adam Scarimbolo), a daughter’s untimely marriage (Sabrina Gennarino), her far-flung sister who’s never around, and a relative who enjoys her booze (Diane Neal), even the slightest dramatic spark could trigger the explosive time bomb of emotions already ticking down – a scenario threatening to become reality. Father Mitch Valentino (John Doman) should be the glue holding everyone together, but instead finds himself retreating into a state of disconnected seclusion, only caring for his wife Nora (Kathleen Quinlan). With the children slowly spiralling out of control, and the parents remaining blissfully ignorant, can the Valentinos avoid a nuclear meltdown that might tear them apart?
While this might sound like a gurgling volcano of dramatized storytelling begging to erupt in magnificent fashion, After possess absolutely no excitement, laboriously plods along with a lifeless atmosphere, and falls victim to cheesy soap opera performances that never muster cinematic dominance. It’s easy to point blame towards actors and actresses, but a decaying core of misfiring ideas always primed performers for failure. For example, Scarimbolo’s character ends up beaten by a gang because he makes a random patron wait at a tattoo parlor? Yes, his act of aggression is accepting a prospective client who had been waiting less time, like some rebellious backhand, and the slighted would-be-client gets so mad that he gang jumps him later? Um, that’s drama?
It’s unfortunate, because Gennarino’s head-scratching assumption of what makes drama is completely off base, harboring a load of forced sympathy and ill-fitting seediness. For example, why did Mr. Valentino so vehemently oppose Maxine’s marriage to an African American man? It’s like Gennarino tries to deceive you with false racism by making Andy of color, only to realize the unjustified hatred is completely selfish, but none of that matters because it’s resolved only after a few awkward interactions. Same goes for Mitch’s ignorance of the sad state of the Valentino stone business, as his son so desperately tries to salvage an obviously failing brand while his father ignores loan meetings and conversations. What should be an illuminating dissection of how different people handle grief turns into a laughably out-of-touch look into one family’s perverted deceptions and child-like reactions – converting zero confrontations into pure, raw drama.
While Gennarino’s screenplay sadly becomes the root of all evil, I can’t overlook some horridly overplayed roles scattered across the board. Without pointing fingers, everyone has moments that embody the character development of a wooden plank, whether it’s instigating a bar fight after a single dirty look, or a mockingly forced family dinner situation out of General Hospital. Movies are supposed to feel genuine, unique, and vibrant, yet no actor is able to establish any bit of captivating character work while dealing with characters who are crafted only out of stereotypes. Honestly, these personalities are far easier to hate, and no real redemption ever becomes possible – even with such a “bombshell” ending. And yes, my usage of “bombshell” is completely sarcastic.
As a director, it’s Pieter Gaspersz’s job to visually captivate audiences no matter what screenplay he’s working with, but there’s absolutely nothing innovative or appealing about this lackluster drama. No revealing angles are discovered, montages speed past hilariously life altering moments, and steady camera tactics simply catch two people talking about whatever outlandish argument characters decide to partake in. All and all, After feels exactly like a bland, uneventful, and generic drama without any physical flair to counteract even weaker storyboarding and some performances that could have used a massive dose of visionary spices.
The worst part about After isn’t all the falsified drama, the forgettable performances, the lack of direction, or the begging for your tears, but the very worst part happens as Gennarino attempts to humanize one of the most tragic moments in American history. I’ll be honest, you’ll want to channel respect once the end title cards roll, but when you can’t even muster a modicum of respect, a wave of frustration comes along with not being able to find solace in a movie tackling one of the hardest topics imaginable. Again, here comes that feeling of guilt – and I’m having absolutely none of it.
I've never had a movie try to guilt me into acceptance right before the credits rolled, but I guess there's a first time for everything?