'We Are Who We Are' is your newest high-art teen drama TV obsession
Luca Guadagnino's new HBO series We Are Who We Are is a singular snapshot of teenagers living in a very specific place and time: on an American military base in Italy, during the run-up to the 2016 election. Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer) is an introverted 14-year-old alcoholic uprooted from New York City by his mothers, Sarah (Chloë Sevigny) and Maggie (Alice Braga), who are both in the U.S. Army. Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón) is his seemingly bold and popular neighbor who’s doted on by her Trump-supporting dad (Scott Mescudi, better known as Kid Cudi) — and secretly dresses in drag to pick up girls in bars.
The first time Fraser sees Caitlin, she’s reciting a Walt Whitman poem: “I am he that aches with amorous love.” The new kid snaps a clandestine photo; his subject fixes him with an icy glare. Later, wandering drunk and dehydrated through a seaside village, Fraser happens upon Caitlin wearing her brother’s oversized clothes, long hair stuffed inside of a baseball cap, using the name Harper. By the end of the pilot episode of WRWWR (the show’s official acronym), which aired on September 14, Fraser and Caitlin are an inseparable duo, bound by their quiet acceptance of one another.
The second installment of WRWWR aired last night, September 21, and it’s a retelling of Fraser and Caitlin’s first meeting but from her perspective. Guadagnino's meticulous storytelling — hopping back and forth in time, centering on different characters’ perspectives of the same event — allows for rich and rewarding character development. This time next year, don’t be surprised if the cast of WRWWR are the darlings of the 2021 Emmy Awards.
Speaking of breakout talents, playing Caitlin marks 17-year-old Seamón’s major screen debut. She’d done a few short films and had a handful of theater credits, often getting type-cast as a mean girl, “which is funny, because I don't think I'm mean at all,” Seamón told Mic during a recent phone call. It’s true; in real life, Seamón is warm and funny. Her dog, Nova, who makes frequent cameos on her Instagram, adorably interjected on our chat a few times like a canine publicist.
We Are Who We Are drew early comparisons to another HBO teen drama, Euphoria, and it’s not hard to see why: both center on young people grappling with addiction and exploring their gender identity. To get into Caitlin’s skin, Seamón stayed away from “textbook research, because textbooks can only give you facts. I feel with gender identity and expression, [the experience is unique] to the people trying to figure out who they are,” the actress told Mic. Instead, she asked friends who identify as gender fluid or transgender for their input and advice on developing the character. Seamón tried to “learn their stories” and understand “aspects of what they dealt with in their life — who is accepting, who wasn't accepting, and how did that make you feel?”
Guadagnino’s first foray into TV has also been called a follow-up to Call Me By Your Name, his Italian-set queer romance starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. But from its gorgeous, bleached-out cinematography to its inspired score by Dev Hynes (better known as Blood Orange), WRWWR is a captivating and wholly original creation. Guadagnino takes his time with the storytelling, luxuriating in all the creative possibilities offered by eight hours of serial television.
Filming WRWWR a whole year ago, in pre-pandemic times, sounds like it was an idyllic experience for its young cast, as well. Guadagnino introduced Seamón to the technical side of filmmaking, letting her review scenes when they wrapped. In addition to absorbing knowledge from industry veterans like Guadagnino and Mescudi (“He and I grew up very similarly, and he's just the best. He's the best TV dad that I could ever ask for,” Seamón gushed), the 17-year-old said she looked up to her other young co-stars, as well. Grazer, for example, has been acting since he was 10; Francesca Scorsese, who plays Caitlin’s friend Britney, is Martin’s youngest daughter. Both essentially grew up on film sets, whereas Seamón “was really nervous about sticking out like a sore thumb,” she confessed. “I was really, really scared that [...] people would regret casting me.”
It’s hard to imagine that’d ever be the case. In We Are Who We Are, Seamón demands our attention with such quiet gravitas it’s hard to believe such charisma and talent is exuding from such a young performer. Here’s one comparison to Euphoria I’ll endorse: the show catapulted Zendaya from Disney princess to Emmy-winning actress. WRWWR seems destined to launch Seamón into the A-list stratosphere, as well. We can't wait to see it.