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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

We Are Who We Are revels in teen chaos

Illustration for article titled iWe Are Who We Are /irevels in teen chaos
Screenshot: We Are Who We Are
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“Right Here, Right Now IV” lives in the space of teenage fantasy. The school-less, parent-less, unsupervised, unedited, uninhibited space where anything feels possible. With Craig’s deployment on the horizon, the teens conspire to send him off with great fanfare. A raucous game of paintball gives way to a spontaneous wedding that gives way to a whole evening of drunk and delirious partying and sex. There’s a feral freedom to it all. The characters cannot be contained, cannot stay still. They thrash and they undress and they drink and they destroy. It’s intoxicating. But it’s also almost unnatural. It’s carefully crafted chaos. And that makes it more of a spectacle than an actual feeling.

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Perhaps the pointlessness of their destruction and debauchery is exactly the point. But take for example the shot of a wedding dress hanging from the back of a lawn mower. It caps off a series of shots of the teens’ shoes and clothing strewn all around the vacation home they’ve broken into after Craig and Valentina have their last-minute “Hawaiian-themed” wedding at the chapel on base. Valentina’s cheap wedding dress—purchased with money pooled by the whole crew at the PX—waves in the breeze, draped across the handle of a lawn mower as the sun dips. It’s a lovely shot. But it’s precise mess. It looks like someone placed it there to be like “ah, yes, this looks just slightly strange.” It’s easy to be all too aware of Luca Guadagnino’s hand in this episode, to see the characters’ mess as something staged and inorganic.

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Quiet scenes bookend the episode. There’s the first, a sprawling game of paintball at a complex in the woods. And then the last, the commander sending off Craig’s troop, a stark reminder about why exactly he wants to spend the night before reveling in loud, reckless fun. In the middle, it’s all a furious frenzy. The paintball game ends with a symphony of teen chaos, the characters hurling things at each other. The use of slow-motion and the gorgeous score do turn the playfulness into something more artful, but again, it’s almost methodical in its rendering, more crafted than alive. Yes, this episode is immersive throughout, almost music video-esque in its style and moods. And the lack of plot isn’t inherently bad. But it still feels like so much is missing from We Are Who We Are. Who are any of these characters to themselves or to each other?

Danny, we’re informed, worships Craig on a god-like level. That much has been clear since the beginning, but there’s still the underlying question of why. Questions lurk beneath the surface of much of the relationship dynamics, which are very fluid and feral throughout the episode. Britney makes out with Sam. Craig strokes Caitlin’s hair tenderly, and she accuses him of going easy on her at paintball because he sees her as a girl. Fraser helps Sam off the floor, but Sam informs him that he’ll never like him. Sole aggressively corners and kisses Fraser. Fraser tells Caitlin who tells him to never do it again. Craig encourages Danny to dance with Valentina. Danny hooks up with two of Valentina’s friends at once, fucks one on a couch in front of everyone else. Enrico and Britney both seem willing to get with anyone. Everyone’s getting naked, everyone’s getting messy. In all of it though, there’s not much to latch onto in terms of why these relationships are the way that they are or what really holds the friend group together or what anyone is actually feeling or trying not to feel.

In short: A lot is left unsaid. And some of that is absolutely intentional withholding. Sam is clearly frustrated by losing Caitlin and by Craig and Valentina’s display of newlywed bliss, but he isn’t really sure how to express it, so his anger just spews out of him in every direction. Everyone is repressing something. Everyone is determined to act like Craig isn’t about to get deployed—Craig included. Britney almost breaks the spell when, during a game of truth, she talks about another soldier who tried to kill his own wife. It’s a jarring disturbance to the mood, upsetting Danny especially. I keep using the word feral, but it really does feel like the best descriptor of the episode. The camerawork and transitions are almost manic. In one scene, the characters thrash their bodies around in an almost violent dance before a sudden cut to another darker, quieter, sensual slow-dance scene. There’s no inhibition to be found, and at times, it’s indeed electrifying to watch.

The performances do strongly harness the mayhem that the episode is gunning for. Everyone brings their A-game to the party episode, especially Spence Moore II, Ben Taylor, and Corey Knight, who all occupy more of the narrative than usual. There’s much less of a focus on Fraser and Caitlin here. It’s more about the group as an amoeba. And while there isn’t a ton of character development, there is life in these performances, each actor bringing specificity to their characters. Francesca Scorsese surprises with a melodious interlude, singing “Soldier of Love” by Pearl Jam.

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And while it’s electrifying to watch, it’s disturbing, too. Fraser projectile vomits early on and then just keeps going like it’s nothing. He often exhibits truly worrying behavior when he’s drinking, which is all the time, and it’s made even more worrying by the fact that no one seems to care or notice. He spends a chunk of time horizontally sprawled on a couch, barely able to keep his eyes open. Caitlin strokes his hair, but is anyone really caring for him? And that’s where We Are Who We Are sometimes gets confusing in exactly what it’s trying to convey about this friend group. There’s a false sense of intimacy throughout the party sequences. Everyone is sexually liberated and all over each other, and yet there’s no real closeness to be found. There’s a hollowness to it all that sucks so much life out of the sequences.

They eat spaghetti with their hands. They hang on each other, drape their bodies across the floor and on couches, spill into each other. But is it really intimacy? Is this really a group of friends who love and care for each other? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure if the ambivalence is the point or if it all just comes down to a lack of character development. Valentina is barely a sketch of a character, and while Craig’s willingness to marry quickly makes sense, she’s just mostly here as a beautiful cipher. We Are Who We Are romanticizes teen mess in a way that sometimes eschews the actual mess of it all. It’s dysfunction rendered as carefree fun. The hedonism is scintillating, but it’s also ultimately empty.

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Stray observations

  • I’m not always convinced that these teens would listen to the music the episode has them listen to, but I could be wrong.
  • Craig does seem like a great guy, but I still don’t really understand why everyone loves him SO much. But I guess that’s somewhat realistic...certain people get elevated to god status when you’re young.
  • Fraser’s wedding look is very good.
  • I know I’m old because I couldn’t stop thinking about how upsetting it would be to come home to that house!!!!!!!!
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