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‘We Are Who We Are’ is an entrancing exploration of identity and much more

‘We Are Who We Are’ is an entrancing exploration of identity and much more

‘We Are Who We Are’ is an entrancing exploration of identity and much more
November 07
12:00 2020

“It’s time we changed this world and ourselves. In order to do that, we have to know ourselves.”

On an American military base in Italy during the fall of 2016, moody and pretentious teen Fraser Wilson (Jack Dylan Grazer) moves in as his mother takes over command. Intrigued by teen Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón) and her friends, Fraser falls in with them as tensions begin to mount throughout the base. From Caitlin exploring her gender identity to marriage troubles between Fraser’s moms to the 2016 election playing in the background, Fraser and Caitlin must come to terms with who they are and who they want to be.

This review is a follow-up to another impression I did for the pilot back in September, in which I suggested “We Are Who We Are” could evolve into an intricate exploration of identity among other things. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, the man behind 2017’s “Call Me by Your Name” and 2018’s “Suspiria” among others, “WRWWR” explores themes of identity, expectations and alienation across eight episodes of its first season, subtitled “Right Here, Right Now.”

Obviously,  all the praise for Guadagnino’s cinematography and direction mentioned last time goes for this whole season. This is by far one of the most beautiful shows ever put on the air, with gorgeous, sun-soaked beaches and the verdant, dark green of the tall grass on the coast and Italian countryside. Even scenes of teens messing around at the beginning of episode four in slow motion is hypnotically filmed. The scenery is so delicious you could drink it.

The acting is also consistently solid through-and-through, with Grazer and Seamón carrying their scenes together with some pretty impressive chemistry, even through scenes where much of the storytelling goes unspoken. Their arguing over their gender, sexuality and more is way more interesting than it should be and while they are not the most realistic depiction of teenagers, there is undeniable humanity and camaraderie between the two.

The supporting cast is also excellent, with Chloë Sevigny and Alice Braga probably being the best as Fraser’s mothers. The complexity of their marriage is explored quite a bit and the issues between them are realistic and subtle. Another set of characters with surprising depth are Caitlin’s parents, Richard (Kid Cudi) and Jennifer (Faith Alabi). I didn’t expect either of them to have their characters explored as much as they were, Jennifer especially.

The music is excellent, not counting samples and licensed track. Devonté “Blood Orange” Hynes gets in a mix of electronica and triumphant orchestral pieces that highlight glorious moments of shared euphoria and levity between the teens. Hynes’ score becomes more noticeable as the show continues on.

The way the show develops its themes of identity and alienation are played within how it presents relationships — Fraser has a pretty contentious relationship with Sarah but a more solid one with Maggie, Caitlin’s potentially transmasculine identity puts her at heavy odds with Richard, Sarah and Maggie are having largely unspoken relationship problems and so many more plotlines that are mostly tightly threaded and received the needed attention.

However, the series does misstep in a few areas, primarily pacing and certain character arcs.

The pacing of the first three or so episodes is pretty glacial and Guadagnino and his writers take quite a while to really introduce all the big players both inside and outside of Fraser and Caitlin’s group. It’s not really until maybe episode three where the show really illustrates the kind of character dynamics in play between everyone.

Still, not everyone gets much beyond a solid base personality or even consistent characterization. For example, Sam (Benjamin L. Taylor II), Brit (Francesca Scorsese) and Caitlin’s brother Danny (Spence Moore II) turn on Fraser and Caitlin way too often. To be fair, I do remember teenagers being capable of some unfriendly mood swings, so that might be what they’re going for, but I would’ve liked a more in-depth exploration of that idea.

This also easily among HBO’s most obtuse shows, with the aforementioned pacing and even unspoken character dynamics. It’s pretty clear this is Guadagnino’s first stab at a TV show and there are times when it feels like significant cuts have been made from what was originally shot.

Of course, “WRWWR” is not for everyone and likely falls among HBO’s more “arthouse” series due to its pacing issues and reliance on nonverbal language. However, it can still engross through how Guadagnino presents his characters and the stories they’re entangled in. By the end of “We Are Who We Are,” I was enraptured by the characters and the finale left me on such a high note — I didn’t know where Fraser and Caitlin would end up, but I was still satisfied and energetic.

Final rating: 4/5

Featured image: Courtesy HBO

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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