If you don’t identify as an Afternator or recognise the hashtag #Hessa, a short explanation is necessary. After is a clutch of bestselling YA romance novels once described as “Fifty Shades of Grey for teens”. US author Anna Todd started writing stories as fan fiction for the boyband One Direction and Harry Styles is the inspiration for broody-eyed bad-boy Hardin Scott; he’s the on-off boyfriend of bookish virginal college student Tessa Young. This film is the stupendously wooden and humourless third in the series. It’s heading straight to Amazon and should come with a warning to viewers: contains extremely boring sex.
If you’re new to the franchise, don’t even bother trying. The script works on the basis that everyone watching has read the books, seen the previous movies and bought the T-shirt (sloganned versions available on Etsy: “Mentally dating Hardin Scott”). No attempt whatsoever is made to introduce us to the tedious tangle of relationships. That said, all you need to know about Tessa and Hardin is that they can’t live without each other.
The latest crisis is whether Tessa moving to Seattle to work for a swanky publishing company will destroy their relationship. Josephine Langford is dewy-skinned Tessa, who spends the film smiling a bland people-pleasing smile. Hardin is played by British actor Hero Fiennes Tiffin, the son of director Martha and nephew of Ralph and Joseph. (My burning question is whether any of the other Fiennes have ever watched these movies? We need a Gogglebox episode of a family screening.)
The acting is daytime-soap standard and the tasteful, softcore sex is shot in such a way as to not look like actual sex. It’s unerotic, unsweaty and performed with expressionless faces. It feels like the film-makers know they have to do the sex bits, but don’t really want to actually do them. In one scene Hardin turns up the bubbles on a hot tub with a suggestive eyebrow waggle. “Oooh, that’s nice,” coos Tessa, as if he’s just passed her the custard creams.