We Are Who We Are
A line like, “Hey guys, where’s my underwear?” — which is uttered toward the end of this fourth episode by Enrico (Sebastiano Pigazzi) — has all the makings of a punch line. Were it found in, say, a raunchy teen comedy like American Pie or Porky’s, it would earn hearty laughs, most likely at the expense of the character unable to locate his briefs. In We Are Who We Are, though, the line is but a throwaway one. Enrico, walking around fully nude in front of his friends, two of whom are having sex on the couch, isn’t really interested in modesty as much as he is interested in comfort.
I kept thinking back to that line as I tried to gather my thoughts about “Right Here Right Now IV” which, again, were you to describe it plainly, sounds like a teen-sex comedy gone wild. Here, after all, is an episode structured around an impromptu wedding followed by a night of debauchery at an empty house with a pool where plenty of liquor is imbibed. Clothes soon come off, and a game of spin the bottle is played. But in Luca Guadagnino’s treatment, these scenes aren’t designed to mock young people or to find comedy in their horniness. In fact, there is a beautiful melancholy to the episode, best summed up by brief montages where the camera lingers on the aftermath of raucous moments — a wet sock, a sneaker, a folded blazer, a discarded lei.
As much as this episode hinges on wild partying — our young ensemble lets loose to celebrate Craig and Valentina’s (played by Corey Knight and Beatrice Barichella) Hawaii-themed shotgun wedding — We Are Who We Are remains committed to finding the poetry in the everyday. Which is to say: Yes, the show may be edging out Euphoria as the horniest show on HBO, but its nonchalant attitude toward sex is actually quite refreshing. Enrico soon finds his briefs on the couch and doesn’t think twice about slapping his friend’s ass right after before calling on Britney (Francesca Scorsese) to serenade them all.
Sidebar: We have to talk about Scorsese (yes, she’s Marty’s daughter) and her hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Soldier of Love.” “Lay down your arms of love,” she croons, “and surrender to me.” It’s a pitch-perfect distillation of the show’s themes, capturing emotional vulnerability couched within militaristic language that privileges tender intimacy in its treatment of romantic love. Of course, the song becomes even more poignant as it frames Craig’s departure. He leaves his sleeping bride and his bridal party (most of whom are passed out), just before shipped off for deployment. It is a bittersweet moment that, like many in the show, yanks us abruptly out of of Guadagnino’s dreamy world and places us right back in the real one.
But back to Enrico and the show’s embrace of what seems like gratuitous nudity. While some may find all the naked bodies distracting and maybe even distasteful (recall how prudish those Call Me By Your Name sex scenes were, after all), the casualness of the sexuality in the show serves as a reminder that, while hang-ups exist in every friend group, sex and nudity need not be the source of them. It’s all very … European.
So let’s focus on some of those hang-ups for a bit: First of all, what does Fraser have to do to get in everyone’s good graces? Being the commander’s kid is tough; being the commander’s kid who everyone thinks is pushing Caitlin away from all of them is even tougher. But, still, the antipathy the boys have toward him is hard to watch — especially given Fraser’s nonconfrontational attitude. This means that, largely, he’s left to fend for himself — equal parts jester and interloper — whenever they’re all out hanging out together.
Kudos to Fraser, though, for finding a way to recite a key line from E.M. Forster’s Maurice and thus allowing me to continue to examine We Are Who We Are as a meditation on the queer storytelling tradition. We’ve heard from William S. Burroughs, Walt Whitman, Ocean Vuong, and now, at a moment when he’s being taunted and scorned (however playfully) by two men during a game of paintball, we see Fraser pull out a Forster line: “Brighter than magnesium wire — the light within.” This imperative to focus on one’s own light within (the soul, per the novel) is but another example of Fraser using queer texts to frame what’s happening around him. He looks to Whitman, Burroughs, Vuong, and Forster to make sense of a world he feels detached from.
That Forster’s posthumously published novel about a gay romance is invoked in an episode about the joys (and lustful pleasures) of a straight wedding merely puts into relief just how much We Are Who We Are is interested in unpacking intimacy and desire in all its forms. Fraser’s inadequacy when cornered by one of Valentina’s friends is a reminder that he’s still trying to figure out what desires to act on. As is Caitlin. The two seem content with (or perhaps resigned to) being on the sidelines, keeping to themselves while others live out their recklessness with abandon. One wonders if showing us Craig’s daring proposal and wedding isn’t a way for the show to remind us how predetermined narratives like marriage are easy ways for young people to make sense of the chaos around them. And, of course, to then have us wonder, as both Fraser and Caitlin do constantly, what happens when those choices feel like ill-fitting outfits best left in the closet.
This Is What It Is
• I’ve waxed poetic about the show’s song choices before, but I’d be remiss to not bring up the use of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” — mostly because it allows me to bring up the cover art for the Sticky Fingers album, arguably one of the best album covers ever designed (from a concept conceived by Andy Warhol, no less!). I kept thinking back to that close-up image of a young man in very tight briefs during this episode. When so much of the narrative depends on sexual provocation, it’s almost daring you to call it out for what it’s so blatantly doing.
• Again, this show has impeccable musical taste. See also: Sam bringing up Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” as poetry.
• “Okay, well this is the only reasonable fabric.” — Fraser, showing that he is, indeed, a sensible shopper.
• Fraser’s frantic dancing deserves to become its own GIF.
• That blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment when Britney looks over at Fraser and Caitlin as she makes out with Sam is hard to read: Is she making sure her friend is okay? Or is she hoping to make Fraser jealous?
• I remain in awe of how much Jack Dylan Grazer is able to capture in brief wordless moments (waking up drunk on the couch, fussing with his hair outside of the house, throwing up in the background) that telegraph so much about who Fraser is. He and Jordan Kristine Seamón are luminous throughout, and a lot of their work is, as I’ve pinpointed before, dependent less on their talky moments than on the times when Guadagnino lets his camera linger on them, allowing us to see them merely be, especially when they think no one is watching.