Directed by: Matthew Newton
Premise: An ex-con (Julianne Nicholson) searches for employment while fighting her sister and brother-in-law for custody of her son. Meanwhile, an up-and-coming public defender (Emma Roberts) struggles to find meaning in a job that is consistently disappointing.
What Works: Who We Are Now is a nuanced slice-of-life drama. The movie impresses with how unsentimental it is. The subject matter makes it ripe for soppy melodrama but the actors and the filmmakers maintain a steady emotional tone. The film is certainly engaging but the struggles of these characters are pitched just right. Certain emotional beats are underplayed in the right way and the movie is quietly impactful. Who We Are Now has several impressive performances. The film is led by Julianne Nicholson as an ex-con who wants her son back. Nicholson’s character struggles to reenter society and reestablish a relationship with her son. In an interesting complication, the boy doesn’t know that Nicholson’s character is in fact his mother; he thinks his legal guardians are also his biological parents and they want the boy to stay with them. We can see the strain this puts on Nicholson’s character and the actress carries that guilt underneath her performance. The film also captures some of the subtle challenges of transitioning to life after incarceration and Nicholson has some effectively awkward moments. Also impressive is Emma Roberts as a public defender who struggles to balance work and family obligations. Roberts’ character believes in social justice and invests emotionally in the plight of her clients but she is working in a system that is set up to wear her down. That tension is interesting and this is one of Roberts’ better performances. Zachary Quinto also joins the cast as a war veteran who strikes up a romance with Nicholson’s character. Quinto makes the most of his scenes and conveys his character’s pain but also his hope for a meaningful relationship. Who We Are Now interweaves these various characters and storylines in a way that is organic and has a lot of real moments. The characters’ desires are intangible—they are looking for connection, meaning, and love—but the filmmakers make those desires palatable.
What Doesn’t: Who We Are Now contains a lot of characters and storylines, a few too many for a movie that is only ninety-five minutes in length. The subplots don’t have a chance to breathe. The film leaps from one story arc to the next and so each subplot ends up being a series of turning points but without the dramatic buildup in between. Some of the conflicts are incomplete, especially the storyline of the public defender played by Emma Roberts. She has conflicts with her family and her job but the defender’s story is denied a conclusion. The romance between Julianne Nicholson and Zachary Quinto’s characters could also use more screen time so that there is more at stake when their relationship hits a crisis.
DVD extras: None.
Bottom Line: Who We Are Now is a solid drama with outstanding performances. The film could have stood to be a little longer and dig a little deeper but the film offers a vivid portrait of characters in search of ineffable human needs.
Episode: #726 (November 18, 2018)