We Are Who We Are Review
I’ve never been particularly fond of the Italian-helmed series run by HBO. I don’t mean My Brilliant Friend, which is fully committed to its time and place, but rather the mixtures between Italian and English TV. The biggest examples of this were The Young Pope and The New Pope, which were a deeply flawed series that seemed far more interested in style than anything resembling substance.
I therefore took in the knew HBO series We Are Who We Are with some misgivings — one of the executive producers was Paolo Sorrentino, the force behind those two shows. But Luca Guadagnino, the force behind the extraordinary Call Me By Your Name was behind it, I decided it to give a chance. But I’m still not entire sure what exactly I’m seeing even two episodes in. So I’ll stick to what I’ve seen.
Fraser is an American teenager who moves to a military base in Italy when his mother (Chloe Sevigny) is transferred to take over running it. She and her wife seem like a pretty normal couple, and it’s frankly a little hard to understand what it is up with Fraser. He walks around the base — pretty much everywhere — with no really interest in communicating with anybody who even tries to be friendly with him. He has no interest in dealing with IDs, seems only to care about listening to music and getting drunk, and treats his mother alternately with disdain and closeness that is genuinely unsettling. The only person he seems interested in is Caitlin, and even that’s strange in itself.
Caitlin is harder to pin down than that. She likes pressing boundaries with her boyfriends, spars with her father, and likes dressing up as a boy. But her approach to her menstrual cycle is very strange, as well as her relationship with her mother and her brother. When Fraser sees her secret, he makes the first real effort to help her, and even that she rejects out of hand. The fact that she is African American is not even an issue, at least here.
Now I’m all for real discussions of sexuality and gender fluidity, and I’m impressed that writer Sean Conway goes out of his way not to make them — or for that matter, many of the other characters — likable. I also appreciate that this is a series about a boy and a girl that is going to be about friendship and romance will not enter the picture at all. (The key moment comes at the end of the first episode when Fraser says to Caitlin: “So what should I call you?”) And I admit that the series is exceptionally well shot and directed. The problem is, I’m still not sure if there’s anything there behind the beauty of Italy. We Are Who We Are may say it’s moving leisurely, but it feels slow. The first two episodes were basically stories of the same period first from Fraser, then Caitlin’s point of view. I didn’t much care for this approach when it was in The Affair, but at least they managed to do it one episode.
And I’m still not sure why Guadagnino and Conway decided to set the series on a military base in Italy at all. Since the focus of so much of the show on Americans at the base rather than the Italians around it, aside from the beauty of the country, there isn’t much added. Is it to suggest a greater level of isolation that so many of these teenagers feel? That could’ve been expressed in any other country.
I’ll admit this series has some impressive ideas, and that may make We Are Who We Are worth sticking around for a bit further. But I have a feeling that this may be one of those series it is easier to admire than to actually like. It certainly seems this way so far.
My score: 3.25 stars.