No adventure is true if you already know how it’s going to end before it even begins. After Words is a sweet rom-com set in lushly photographed Costa Rica and predictable from start to fadeout, but saved by a pair of charmers named Marcia Gay Harden and Óscar Jaenada, a charismatic newcomer from Spain who also stars in the forthcoming movie biography of legendary comic Cantinflas. He’s a keeper.
AFTER WORDS ★★
Written by: Juan Feldman and Joel Silverman
When her library in Los Angeles gets downsized because in the Internet world nobody reads books anymore, a dreary librarian named Jane (Ms. Harden) loses her job. Depressed and despondent, she leaves behind a last will and testament, buys a plane ticket, and flies to Costa Rica to commit suicide. No such luck. Instead, her life is invaded by a persistent tour guide named Juan (the charming Mr. Jaenada) who is famous for seducing lady tourists for extra money.
This is a feel-good movie, so it’s not long before the script informs us he’s not just another cheap hustler on the make. He’s just a conscientious single parent who needs cash to keep his daughter in private school. Frigid, uptight Jane is terrified of him, especially when he touches her, but they have one thing in common. Her life is words and he’s passionate about learning new ones. His current favorites are “capricious” and “accessible.” He is both. In the next stress-free 91 minutes, he broadens his vocabulary with new words like “chutzpah” and reads his first book (Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, no less), while she learns to lighten up and smell the gardenias and we get a colorful tour that covers everything from the sloths in the trees to the spiritual symbolism of the orchids in the rain forest.
Movies about beaten down, washed out women who meet sexy natives in faraway places with strange-sounding names and get their mojo back are nothing new. Think Charlotte Rampling in Heading South and Pauline Collins in Shirley Valentine. But rarely do they do it as fast as Ms. Harden does on the sandy beaches of Costa Rica. Two cocktails with a paper umbrella in them and she’s anybody’s.
I know she’s playing repressed, but her performance is so drab she’s like bloodless skin, stripped of all pigmentation. She also mumbles so much that I kept wondering why director Juan Feldman didn’t tighten the reigns more. By contrast, Mr. Jaenada is twice as coherent, even with his fractured accent. An unconvincing Hollywood ending that feels tacked on for an American market dilutes the otherwise touching script by Joel Silverman and renders a lot of good work frivolous.
After Words is part adventure, part love story, part travelogue, and all as synthetic as rayon.