At first glance, HBO’s “We Are Who We Are” (2020) seems like the love child of “Euphoria” (2019–) and “Skins” (2007–2013) — another teen drama that portrays the ups and downs of adolescence and self-discovery. But as with all of filmmaker Luca Guadagnino’s projects, there’s more than what meets the eye.
With a star-studded cast featuring both Hollywood newbies (Jack Grazer, Jordan Kristine Seamón) and pop culture legends (Chloë Sevigny, Scott Mescudi — better known as “Kid Cudi”), “We Are Who We Are” tells the story of two American families living on an American military base in Italy in 2016.
The audience is first introduced to Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer), an outspoken, eclectic 14-year-old who is unafraid to unapologetically express himself through his sense of fashion, music and poetry. Having lived in New York City all his life, Fraser is having a hard time adapting to this new environment into which he was abruptly dragged when his mom (Chloë Sevigny) was appointed as the new colonel of the base. Struggling to make friends with the other American kids on the base, Fraser gravitates toward his tomboy neighbor Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón), whose MAGA-hat-wearing military dad (Scott Mescudi) is a captain on the base. After catching Caitlin in drag at a bar one day, Fraser befriends her and her two brothers, who introduce him to the rest of their friend group.
As Fraser and Caitlin’s platonic alliance grows, we see them help each other out in their journeys toward self-discovery. The show’s focus soon broadens to Caitlin’s tight-knit circle of friends and their identities — Christian and Muslim, American and European, white and Black, military and civilian, all thrown together in a limbo that’s both America and Italy, and yet, at the same time, neither.
What makes this series unique is that it’s essentially about a group of American teenagers stuck in a foreign land. The moment these kids step outside of the military base, they find themselves in Italy. While they have made this rigid base feel like home, they can’t stay blind to the outside world. It is this friction between the inside and the outside world that drives these kids to search for who they are and who they want to be. Perhaps, this is Guadagnino’s take on Americans and their need to build this concept of “America” everywhere they go — even at a military base in Italy.
Echoing the cinematographic traces of “Call Me By Your Name” (2017) and its sultry, sun-kissed Italian feeling, Guadagnino’s “We Are Who We Are” manages to go beyond the realms of a typical teen drama and quite realistically explores the ideas of family, politics, gender, sexuality, alcohol, drugs, friendship and “finding your people.” After all, we all go through phases in life in which we really don’t know who we are. It’s a story that fits with every generation.
With a few episodes yet to be released, “We Are Who We Are” could go in a lot of different directions, but it already feels like one of the best things 2020 will offer.