Let me give you a sneak peek of what you’re about to read: supporting characters are important, and the 2020 movie After we collided turns them into nothing more than cardboard cutouts. So now I’m gonna write a 1000+ words blog post about it.
What is a supporting character?
A supporting character may not be the focus of the main storyline, but he or she has enough impact on the narrative to be considered important.
Supporting characters are used to make the world the protagonist lives in more “real”. After all, the protagonist of every story needs to have someone to interact with, and it’s through that interaction that the audience gets to familiarize with the protagonist.
A hug with a family member, a drink with a friend, a fight with an annoying neighbor, asking advice to a religious leader, etc… Those are all occasions to show the true colors of the protagonist and make him relatable/unlikable/adorable/pitiful.
None of those things would be possible without a side character to interact with.
More often than not, the supporting cast has the task of delivering exposition and give instructions to the main character, making them essential to worldbuilding.
It doesn’t matter if the story is set in modern-day Mumbai, in 18th century Spain, or in a different reality 20000 years from now; the supporting cast will be the key to “discovering” the world of the protagonist.
Three-dimensional supporting characters
In the book The art of dramatic writing Lajos Egri writes:
“Every object has three dimensions: depth, height, width. Human beings have an additional three dimensions: physiology, sociology, psychology. Without knowledge of these three dimensions, we cannot appraise a human being.”– The art of dramatic writing
Every screenwriting book/course ever will tell you that your protagonist can’t be one dimensional. But what about the rest of the cast? Are they allowed to have the personality of a jar of mayonnaise?
No, not all of them at least. Sure, the waiter that appears in one scene and has one line doesn’t have to have a thrilling and intense backstory. After he can fill his role in the story without needing a motivation or a personality.
However, other characters do need depth and a strong presence to make the story more believable, even if they are just fulfilling a supporting role. The larger their role in the story, the more effort the writer will have to put into their characterization.
Let’s take Hardin’s mother for example. I’m sure that in the book her character is explored a little bit more, but in this movie… eh.
She came to the US to visit her son, she met his girlfriend, she liked his girlfriend, she forgave her ex-husband, she got pissed at her son for misbehaving, she left. End.
Everything she does is in relation to Hardin or Tessa. Even in the dialogue, everything she TALKS about is Hardin or Tessa.
Her function in the story is to provide exposition about her son’s tragic past so that Tessa (and the audience) can feel bad for him and be more forgiving when we see him throwing one of his tantrums.
The assault, the terrible event that (according to the movie) made Hardin the person he is, is briefly touched upon. And when the characters talk about it, it’s always in relation to Hardin’s trauma despite the fact that his mother was the victim.
Very very often, writers will insert sexual assault in their work but then make the terrible mistake of ignoring the physical and psychological lasting consequences that an event like that has had on the female character, and fully focus on how much another male character is suffering because of it.
It’s one of those classic cases of “writer using sexual violence against women as a plot point for the story of a male character” and it’s not a great look.
Hardin’s mother is just the worst case of a supporting character with the personality of still water, but she’s not the only one.
Landin in the first After movie was shown to be friendly and diligent like Tessa. In After we collided he is… there. Not clear if he’s still going to college or not and the only line he has that isn’t about Tessa and Hardin’s relationship is about Tessa sharing a birthday with Stalin.
Molly, the bad girl, is never shown out of a college frat party. Tessa’s mother gets one scene where she fulfills the function of yelling until her daughter goes back to Hardin.
So, yeah. It’s pretty clear that all the supporting characters in this movie have received the same treatment as the waiter in my example. They come in, they say their bit, they leave.
Character Motivation? I don’t know her
“If we understand that these three dimensions can provide the reason for every phase of human conduct, it will be easy for us to write about any character and trace his motivation to its source.”– The art of dramatic writing
Here’s a list of the motivation that drives each and every character in this movie:
- Hardin: he wants to get his girlfriend back
- Tessa: she wants to forget about her boyfriend and move on
- Trevor: he wants to date Tessa
- Molly: she wants to separate Hardin and Tessa
- Everyone else: WE WANT HARDIN AND TESSA TO GET TOGETHER SO BADLY BECAUSE THEY’RE SOOOO CUUUUTE!!!
Can you… can you see what the problem is?
After we collided is a movie centered around romance so it’s natural that a lot of the conflicts and the motivations behind those conflicts would focus on the main couple. But other (better written) movies would also try to throw something else in there to mix things up.
After we collided doesn’t do that and it shows.
The first After movie was far from perfect and definitely something I didn’t like. But while I was trying to compare it to its sequel I noticed that it had some positive aspects that I didn’t notice before.
In After (2019) the supporting cast is still one-dimensional and flat, but more cohesive. The side characters contribute to Tessa’s internal struggle to choose between maturity and innocence.
Her overprotective mother and her golden retriever boyfriend constantly monitor her actions ready to yell “shame” at every decision they deem improper. Meanwhile, Tessa’s college friends are always pressuring her to forget about the rules, do things she is uncomfortable with, and mock her if she refuses.
So the supporting characters themselves might not have had the strongest motivations (or any motivation at all) but at least the writer had a reason to put them there. They were supposed to play a role so that Tessa could grow and the story could progress.
In After we collided, the supporting cast is there to remind one lead that they are supposed to be in love with the other lead. And that’s it.
Landin (Hardin’s stepbrother) appears 3 times: in the first one, he talks to Hardin about Tessa. In the second one he talks to Tessa about Hardin. In the third one he’s in the background playing the role of the golden boy with his father.
Trish (Hardin’s mother) also appears 3 times: first she meets Tessa for the first time and they talk about her and Hardin. Then she talks to Tessa about Hardin’s nightmares. And finally, at the Christmas party, she admonishes her son for his behavior.
See what I mean? 1/3 of the minor characters’ screentime is devoted to exposition about the main couple.
With the only exception of Molly and Trevor, no one “challenges” the couple. They’re there either to say something along the lines of “But you guys are MEANT FOR EACH OTHER” or to guide one of the leads into the next plot point.
The dialogue – the God awful dialogue
“If you are faithful to your tridimensional character outlines, your characters will be faithful to themselves in speech and manner, and you need have no fear about contrast. If you bring a professor of English face to face with a man who never utters a sentence without mangling it, you’ll have the contrast you need without going out of your way to find it.”– The art of dramatic writing
Unsurprisingly, turning side characters into dolls that repeat the same line over and over again if you push the red button, has a negative impact on the dialogue of the movie as a whole.
Let’s examine the case of the BESTEST and BELIEVABLEST piece of dialogue in the entire movie:
Tessa: “I’m just asking you about dad.”
Carol (Tessa’s mother): “Your father wanted to see you but I chased him off. Why are you getting so worked up about this?”
Tessa: “I’m not- I’m not getting worked up! I just don’t understand why you kept that a secret.” [talking about her father wanting to see her]
Carol: “And you never kept secrets from me? Because I can think of a big one and so can Noah. I thought that we got past this little hiccup once you got your heart broken but I can tell by the sound of your voice that this is not the case. THIs bOy Is nOT GoOd FoR yOU tHeReSA!!!!!!” [the secret being her relationship with Hardin]– After we collided
Ok… Let me get this straight: you can tell by the sound of your daughter’s voice that she’s dating someone? And you can tell exactly who that person is?
Let’s take a moment to think about the context for this scene:
- Tessa is not “officially” back with Hardin, she was just pretending for his mother
- As far as Carol knows, Tessa broke up with Harding after finding out about the bet and hasn’t seen him since
So why? Why on God’s green earth would Carol “sense” that her daughter is dating the guy she doesn’t like through a conversation about her father?
Tessa is understandably upset that her mother has kept from her a secret about her father, and Carol does a completely 180 and dives into a completely unrelated topic.
I don’t know what happened here. Maybe the writer realized that the scene had gone almost A FULL MINUTE without showing or mentioning Hardin and felt the need to fix that mistake.
Maybe Carol is just so invested in her daughter’s sex life that she can’t think of anything else. I mean, she has a picture of her daughter and her ex-boyfriend hanged behind her, and she seems weirdly close to a teenage boy likes to sniff her daughter…
Or maybe the fact that the supporting cast in this movie is not allowed to have a life outside of the main characters’ romance has made the dialogue less believable.
Speaking of hard to believe, let’s talk about the knock off Euphoria character of the movie: Molly. She’s a bad girl, and she’ll tell you about it multiple times while striking her best Instagram model pose.
Molly’s role as a supporting character is to show that Tessa has grown, that she is a bad b*tch now.
So Molly will have to use the best manipulation tactics, the best insults, the best comebacks, the best passive-aggressive comments to challenge this new and improved Tessa.
Molly: “Hey Tess, truth or dare?”
Molly: “Uh… Are you a virgin?”
Hardin: “Molly don’t!”
Molly: “Duh! I already know the answer to that because Hardin fucked you”
Tessa: “Yes he did. My turn, Molly truth or dare?”
Tessa: “Is it true that you’re a whore?”
Everyone else in the room: “OOOOOOOHHHHHHH SSSSSHHHHHIIIIIIITTTTTT!!!!”– After we collided
Well, now I know what Mean Girls would be like if Tina Fey was a 13 years old who just learned how to swear.
Let’s end this
The lack of thought put into the supporting characters of After we collided makes it hard to believe the story. There is no world that the audience can be immersed into, just two toxic people screaming at each other and a bunch of cardboard cutouts that wander in and out of their lives.
To be honest, I didn’t enjoy the first movie and didn’t expect to enjoy the second one. But the difference is that at least I understand why other people enjoyed the first After movie, it’s not perfect but it’s not as bad as it’s sometimes portrayed.
After we collided on the other hand just gives up. It’s the movie equivalent of saying: “You want romance? Here’s your upstairs neighbors yelling and making a scene, knock yourself out.”