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Arts and Entertainment

Finding beauty in the mundane — Review of ‘We Are Who We Are’

I rarely discover television representative of my generation. No, really. I don’t see myself in the chaotic melodrama that is “Euphoria“ or in the monster-hunting, clairvoyant children of “Stranger Things.”  Don’t get me wrong — both shows are magnificent. But with so much teen material being released, I have yet to find something truly honest. Until…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/bridgetdeirdre/" target="_self">Bridget Phillips</a>

Bridget Phillips

December 26, 2020

I rarely discover television representative of my generation.

No, really.

I don’t see myself in the chaotic melodrama that is “Euphoria or in the monster-hunting, clairvoyant children of “Stranger Things.”  Don’t get me wrong — both shows are magnificent. But with so much teen material being released, I have yet to find something truly honest.

Until now.

We Are Who We Are,” an HBO series directed by visionary Luca Guadagnino, has been breaking — no, obliterating — boundaries surrounding the lives of modern youth.

The story is set in an American military base in Italy and chronicles the relationship between non-conformist Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer) and queer teen Caitlyn (Jordon Kristine Seamón)— both struggling to find themselves at the backdrop of the 2016 election. Chloe Sevigny is spectacular as Fraser’s mother, a general struggling to find common ground between her and her son.

Unlike “Euphoria,” which aims to dramatize the teenage experience, “We Are Who We Are” normalizes it. Nothing exemplifies this tactic more than Guadagnino’s writing.

I recount the simple image of two teens, relaxing at the base of a boat. 

“Why do you read poetry?” Caitlyn asks. Fraser considers this: “Same reason I hate your clothing: it’s fast fashion. I’m looking for stuff that means something.”

The production doesn’t need sumptuous editing or music. It’s delightful exchanges like these that prove to be the show’s most meaningful.

Guadagnino’s writing isn’t his only success — the cast is a triumph. Rising star Jack Dylan Grazer captures the narcissism of the common teen, all the while exploring Fraser’s emotional depths. Seamón is equally matched, radiating determination and curiosity as Caitlyn.

What I love most about “We Are Who We Are” is its spirit of mundanity. I smile when Caitlyn’s brother Danny (Spencer Moore II) insults them. Finally, a sibling rivalry reminiscent of me and my brother’s. I cry, then chuckle, when Fraser wraps his arms around his mother and then says he hates her.

Luca Guadagnino has the incredible gift of turning the taboo — gayness, female power, sex- into something normal, yet equally profound.

One side plot of the series is the relationship that develops between Caitlyn’s mother Jenny (Faith Alabi), and Fraser’s step-mother Maggie (Alice Braga). The two are equal in unhappiness. Jenny is a closeted lesbian and Maggie is well-aware of her wife’s promiscuity.

However, Guadagnino doesn’t describe a scandalous affair. If anything, the relationship is deemed inevitable. Its portrayal is compassionate and real — unlike anything I’ve seen on television.

Teens are empathetic creatures. The world is a behemoth, with chaos and treachery abound. “We Are Who We Are” takes that desperation — that normalcy — and turns it into something beautiful.