Review: “We Are Who We Are” accurately depicts the self-doubts of teens


Courtesy of HBO

Sofia Mongillo

Filmmaker Luca Guadagnino once again perfectly captures the anguish and self-discovery that is the essence of being a teenager in his first HBO miniseries, “We Are Who We Are.” Released last Sept. 14, the narrative takes place at a fictional U.S. military base in the seaside town of Chioggia, Italy in 2016. Over the course of eight hour-long episodes, the drama follows the unconventional and ever-evolving friendship of two 14-year-olds who struggle to find their place in the world.

The opening scenes introduce the protagonist, Fraser Wilson, as he waits to exit the airport with headphones intact and attitude on high. Played by “It” and “Shazam!” actor Jack Dylan Grazer, the character’s blunt nature makes him easy to dislike at first. However, getting to know the boy and his complex layers is without question one of the factors that contribute to this masterpiece of a show. After leaving New York City, the teen is faced with the challenge of adjusting to his new life in the tucked-away American bubble as he lives with his mother and her wife, who are both soldiers.

Clearly lost and unhinged, he spends his time exploring the base and meets Caitlin “Harper” Poythress, after observing her from outside a classroom at his new high school. Actress Jordan Kristine Seamón embodies the assertive young girl so effortlessly that it feels as though the role was practically made for her. As time goes on, the quirky relationship that forms between them becomes a driving force and is quite entertaining to watch. Aside from laughs that come as a result of their unique personalities colliding, it becomes apparent that their presence in each others’ lives is their saving grace on the road to self-discovery. Grazer and Seamón both give performances that are guaranteed to resonate with audiences long after finishing the series.

Those who have spent time watching Guadagnino’s on-screen work know one of the Italian director and producer’s signature traits is covering the rawest, most honest moments of life, no matter how explicit they may be. While this means that not all scenes are entirely electrifying, the end result is an unmatched feeling of intimacy between the viewer and the world within the film.

This distinct Guadagnino trademark is no different in “We Are Who We Are,” where long, uncut, and sometimes silent, shots largely make up the storyline and give us an unfiltered look into the lives of the characters. This slow pace and candid outlook feel essential, as topics such as gender identity, sexuality, puberty, love and death are explored. It should be noted, though, that with transparency like this comes some fairly mature content one might avoid watching with their grandmother.

Like in Guadagnino’s other projects, such as the Academy Award-winning “Call Me By Your Name” and the thriller “Suspiria,” the soundtrack to “We Are Who We Are” adds yet another layer of depth to the charming aesthetic created. The mixture of classic names, such as the Rolling Stones and Prince, and artists Gen-Zers are surely familiar with, such as Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean, speaks perfectly to the interests of the teens who dominate the show, and will likely appeal to a wide range of audiences. In combination with stunning cinematography, the melodies featured give character to the array of still scenes that appear on the screen.

“We Are Who We Are” is somehow heartbreaking and beautiful all in one, as it covers the not-so-pretty realities of life. It is full of bittersweet moments that make growing up so trying and defining at the same time. It does not care to make perfect sense or fit into society’s expectations. Rather, it chooses to show life, and particularly youth, the way it is: messy, hard, and constantly changing.

To watch “We Are Who We Are” on HBO Max, click here.

Illustration by Ariel Landry
Illustration by Ariel Landry