Editor’s Note: And While We Were Here opens in limited release on Friday, September 13th, and is now available on VOD.
“Shut that thing off” is the sentiment expressed several times in the course of And While We Were Here by the recorded voice of the freelance reporter protagonist Jane’s grandmother, whose “unique” story of having lived through both world wars in rural England she hopes to write. Yet like that half-baked book idea, Kat Coiro’s film is not half as original or interesting as she thinks, and certainly nowhere near as poignant. As Jane wanders the scenic Italian city were she’s left by her viola-playing husband as he practices with his orchestra each day, her elder espousing conveniently parallel life experiences in her ear amidst bouts of easy exposition, it’s not hard to wish Coiro, with her camera, would heed grandma’s words herself.
Yet like that half-baked book idea, Kat Coiro’s film is not half as original or interesting as she thinks, and certainly nowhere near as poignant.
This stuffy tale of a marriage on the rocks is itself in crisis from the get-go, neither the relationship nor the wife with whom we’re expected to relate constructed with any degree of depth that might allow us to appreciate the affair that unfolds when she, taking a chance excursion to the island of Ischia, strikes up a friendship with the nineteen year-old Caleb, an American. Though friendship is a funny word to accord this decidedly one-way interaction; Jane is cold to the point of callousness in receiving his eager conversation, bitter with an air of impenetrability that might be more alluring had we the faintest indication what her problem was. It’s the first great failing of Coiro’s scripting to leave it to the mid-way point to give us any real character context, by which time it’s easy to be wearied by her heroine’s huffishness.
The common trait of a makeshift couple walking-and-talking their way through a European city should earn the movie more than its fair share of comparisons to Linklater’s Before trilogy, but the lacklustre scripting and relative absence of relatable characters render any such qualifications superficial at best. No, Coiro’s is a far less naturalistic cinema, its emotions as overbearing as the oft-bombastic score that—though sourced from the in-film husband—feels horribly out of place with its soaring sense of epic romance. When at last we do gleam some insight into the problems that have perforated this marriage, it’s with a sequence of near-hysterical scenes, melodramatic to the point of mawkishness and utterly out of touch with the down-to-earth drama heretofore evinced.
In moments, Coiro is almost capable of matching their on-screen energies to show her protagonist’s problems in a sympathetic light; more often, her difficulty in divulging their depths deprives the film of all drama.
Hardly helped by the lacking definition she finds in the script, Kate Bosworth struggles to make a personable presence of Jane; it’s hard to feel for her failing relationship when she seems so firmly disinterested in doing anything to save it. Nor is it easy to appreciate the apparent elation her affair brings, such is the suddenness with which the switch is flipped from disinterest to divulgence as she tells her young beau, but a few hours after first meeting him, the intimate details of her marital troubles. Jamie Blackley does a good job in embodying the youthful exuberance of Caleb, a suitable stand-in for Jane-that-was. In moments, Coiro is almost capable of matching their on-screen energies to show her protagonist’s problems in a sympathetic light; more often, her difficulty in divulging their depths deprives the film of all drama.
Interestingly presented here in its theatrical and on-demand release in a colourised version distinct from the black and white movie that made the festival rounds late last year, And While We Were Here casts its characters against some fine Neapolitan scenery. It’s an appropriate aesthetic backdrop, in a sense: theirs are like faces on a postcard, plumped in this place devoid of definition. Coiro, producing as well as writing and directing, seems convinced of a compelling character who’s simply not there; for all the occasional flourishes with which Bosworth paints her, Jane is as bland and banal a protagonist as any this year. As the film closes, its final line the same “shut that thing off” we’ve heard now so many times across the past eighty minutes, it’s elating to see they finally have.
[notification type=”star”]44/100 ~ BAD. As And While We Were Here closes, its final line the same “shut that thing off” we’ve heard now so many times across the past eighty minutes, it’s elating to see they finally have.[/notification]