Home TV ‘We Are Who We Are’ Review – A Slow Burning Tale of Perplexing Youth

‘We Are Who We Are’ Review – A Slow Burning Tale of Perplexing Youth

by Yasmine Kandil

Luca Guadagnino’s latest endeavour, We Are Who We Are stars Jack Dylan Grazer (It, Shazam!) and Jordan Kristine Seamon in her acting debut. The story follows Fraser, a quiet yet reckless American teenager as he moves to Italy where his mother Sarah (Chloe Sevigny) is newly stationed alongside her wife Maggie (Alice Braga). In the first few episodes, we see Fraser struggle to integrate into this new life before meeting Caitlin. They soon embark on a journey of self-discovery and exploration in an attempt to figure out who they are and who they could be. 

Similar to Guadagnino’s most well known piece of work, 2017’s Call Me By Your Name, We Are Who We Are is ultimately a coming-of-age story that has Italian culture and lifestyle deeply rooted in its narrative. Being set on a U.S Military base within Italy makes for a prevalent contrast between American and European ways of living. As a third culture kid myself, it was easy to be empathetic with these teenagers who have spent their whole lives on the move. There is a line said by Francesca Scorsese’s character Britney, in which she remarks that supermarkets in military bases always have the same products and layout so that residents don’t feel lost. This attention to detail really makes you ponder how teenage-hood is chaotic and confusing enough without the burden of constantly being on the move and leaving each life that you’ve built behind. 

Jack Dylan Grazer in ‘We Are Who We Are’ courtesy of HBO

We Are Who We Are feels extremely naturalistic. A lot of the time you forget that you’re even watching a show, this observation feels almost as if it were a documentary. Now, the series is without a doubt a slow burner and can occasionally fail to maintain engagement with the actual narrative. However, it is very easy to get attached to the characters and their well-being. I so deeply wanted to understand their individual stories and dive further into who they are rather than watch them as a group at times.

The series as a whole features very minimal dialogue, which works for the first 2 out of 8 episodes that are expeditionary and follow the leads within the first day of Fraser arriving at the base – as you see everything happening, there is not much context needed. Once more characters intertwine, the lack of dialogue becomes frustrating as there are moments that critically need that context in order to further develop relationships as well as to justify actions and behavior. The quietness often comes across as very poetic while giving us time to reflect, where as other times, it hinders our ability to understand and explore the narrative on a more intense level.

Performances across the board are good, but there are some in particular that give this show its heart. Jordan Kristine Seamon is fantastic, she captures the essence of Caitlyn’s personality by balancing the shyness, confidence, and curiosity that makes her feel so grounded and human. Similarly, Jack Dylan Grazer is able to make Fraser feel so raw and real. It can be so painful to watch him struggle and suffer, but that is a testament to Grazer’s ability to evoke empathy and emotion from an audience. Another performance to note is Scott Mescudi, otherwise known to people around the world as successful musician Kid Cudi. Although he has experience with notable past roles, this performance feels very different for him. His character is so complex with facades that he is able to transition between flawlessly. Alice Braga as Maggie also surprises; she may just seem like another supporting character at first, but she goes on to bring warm and nurturing elements to the story.  

Jordan Kristine Seamon in ‘We Are Who We Are’ courtesy of HBO

Visually, the show is stunning and really makes use of Italy’s natural beauty. Once again there is an evident juxtaposition between the sterile look of the military base – how restricted everything feels – to when they leave and explore beaches, forests, and beautiful Italian towns where they are free to find themselves. This visual tool immensely aids the plot and evolution of the teens.  

Ultimately, We Are Who We Are is an investigation into the human condition and behavior. It is very much character-driven, you will care a lot more about the leads and how they are feeling rather than some plot points that felt mundane and unnecessary. The urge to see these teens develop personality and exit their shells will keep you on board. It definitely requires patience and may not be for those who are in constant need of action and drama, but those who have enjoyed Guadagnino’s filmography will no doubt revel in We Are Who We Are as his poetic style is certainly present.  

★★★1/2

We Are Who We Are premieres September 14 on HBO!

Follow writer Yasmine Kandil on Twitter: @byebyebucky

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