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Impressions: ‘We Are Who We Are’ could become a visually stunning exploration of youth and identity

Impressions: ‘We Are Who We Are’ could become a visually stunning exploration of youth and identity

Impressions: ‘We Are Who We Are’ could become a visually stunning exploration of youth and identity
September 22
13:32 2020

“So, what should I call you?”

Moving to an American military base in Italy in 2016 with his two moms, eccentric 14-year-old Fraser Wilson (Jack Dylan Grazer) falls in with fellow misfit Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón). With both of them questioning their sexuality and gender identities, Fraser and Caitlin must ultimately come to terms with who they are.

An eight-episode miniseries directed and co-written by Luca Guadagnino of “Suspiria” 2018 and “Call Me By Your Name” fame, HBO’s “We Are Who We Are” is set to tell yet another tale of troubled teens grappling with the uncertainty of teenagehood. The coming-of-age story invites comparisons to fellow HBO show “Euphoria.”

However, I can’t properly compare the two as I’m not at all familiar with the latter show, so this is a straight-off-the-cusp impression of this show’s pilot and nothing more.

As can be expected from an HBO production, the acting is solid, if unusual, especially with its protagonist. Grazer, coming off of the “IT” films, gets to be a hyper-eccentric, moody teen with stalker tendencies (yikes) and an extreme apathy toward authority. Opposite Grazer is Seamón, who isn’t a fully fleshed-out character until the very end, though she carries a magnetic presence through her gaze and she’ll probably be the surprise breakout from this show.

Guadagnino and the other writers also have some pretty detailed character arcs mapped out, with seeds planted for supporting characters in the pilot, including Sarah Wilson’s (Chloë Sevigny) tensions with her subordinates as the new commander of the military base as well as the emotional distance between her and her wife, Maggie (Alice Braga). Of course, their resonance, and that of the show’s, will depend on whether or not the writers give each thread the care needed.

There’s also the fact that the pace, again for the pilot only, is pretty glacial. Focusing largely around an introverted, anti-social kid skipping through nice locations doesn’t make for an entirely gripping introduction to this setting. While it picks up toward the end with a fleshing out of Fraser’s relationship with Maggie and Sarah, as well as the reveal of Caitlin’s potential interest in drag, I’m not sure what other tricks Guadagnino has up his sleeve.

Another quick criticism is the nudity — “We Are Who We Are” has a half-dozen or so fully naked guys throughout the pilot, all of whom flash the 14-year-old protagonist. Grazer himself is 17, so fair warning to those who may find it uncomfortable.

Still, audiences won’t be able to deny the sheer beauty of the cinematography and shot composition, as Guadagnino brings his usual eye for breathtaking locations and sun-streaked locales to the show. Even the plain coastal neighborhoods have this enticing feature to them, with Guadagnino’s more naturalistic style bringing a graceful quality to even the plainest areas seen. While his ability to translate his cinematic storytelling to TV is still up in the air, his visual flair has come through intact.

Going by the first episode, “We Are Who We Are” hints at an intricate exploration of identity — gender, sexuality, religion, belonging, etc. Beautifully composed with top-tier talent aching to stretch their acting muscles, Guadagnino’s latest may become another show not to miss — as long as the crew keeps everything interesting and livens up the pace.

Stay tuned for the full season review for a final rating.

Featured image: Courtesy HBO Max

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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