Obvious intention is to “update” the Roberto Rossellini classic VOYAGE TO ITALY from 1954 (starring Ingrid Bergman & George Sanders as a squabbling English couple in Naples). Alas, writer director Kat Coiro gets trapped in her own conceit & ends up with Tourist Porn. Sad to say but this film is a mess. ( (JLH: 2.5/5)
Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku.
In Kat Coiro’s new film And While We Were Here, Kate Bosworth stars as a woman named “Jane” who is pale, sad, and very, very thin.
Jane is married to a classical musician named “Leonard” (Iddo Goldberg). Leonard makes his living playing the viola, a profession that requires tremendous talent as well as commitment and self-discipline. Leonard is also very handsome and speaks with a high class English accent. (Maybe Leonard is really Colin Firth’s younger brother?!?)
So why is Jane so sad?
In the opening scenes of And While We Were Here, Jane and Leonard are on a train bound for Naples where he has been invited to perform (presumably as a soloist, but that’s never made quite clear). Leonard is clearly someone who is extremely good at what he does, but what does Jane do? Why is she free to travel with him? Doesn’t she have a job? Slowly, slowly we learn that Leonard has brought Jane along because she recently suffered a miscarriage, and he doesn’t want her to be alone.
Jane may not have a job per se, but she does have a project. She has hours and hours of tapes she made of her Grandmother, “Grandma Eves” (Claire Bloom), who has since passed away. Jane says she wants to turn her tapes into a book, and she has brought the tapes with her so she can “transcribe them” while they are in Naples. (Note to Kat Coiro: You don’t transcribe tapes using a pencil and a little notebook. Is that supposed to look picturesque?!?)
Leonard tries to sound encouraging, but his words carry a hint of skepticism. Jane is immediately offended and on the defensive. Clearly this marriage is in big trouble.
Leonard, looking sharp and totally adult, picks up his viola case and heads for the door, stopping long enough to tell Jane that he’s left extra cash for her in case she needs it, and asking only that she keep him informed if she decides to leave their pied-à-terre.
Jane, wearing tiny short shorts and a baby doll top, packs her “Grandma Eves Project” paraphernalia into a tote that’s almost as big as she is and heads off. One cappuccino later, Jane is ready for an adventure, so she boards a ferry bound for Ischia, and off she goes.
Does Jane find “adventure”…? You betcha! But unlike American women before her who went to Italy and found themselves swept away by suave Italians (think Summertime, Light in the Piazza, Under the Tuscan Sun, etc), Jane has her romance with an American, to be precise, Jane allows herself to be “seduced” by an American named “Caleb” (Jamie Blackley) who is celebrating his 19th birthday on the day they meet. “You’re from Maine? I’m from Massachusetts! Wow!” (What a quandary for me! Since Jane is wearing kiddy clothes, should I be grateful that her new lover is an actual kid rather than a pedophile?!?)
Regular readers know I generally play it pretty straight. But I’m allowing myself to make snarky comments in this review so you can sense just how much this film annoyed me. The first time I watched And While We Were Here, I did my best to suspend disbelief; but the second time I watched it was actually painful. I couldn’t wait for it to be over so I could escape. (If you’ve ever heard one of my WITASWAN lectures, then you’ve probably heard me talk about “being in the Star Wars trash compactor.” The walls are closing in! I’m getting claustrophobic!! No, being a film critic is not always “fun”!!! Where the Hell is R2D2 when I need him?!?)
So why did I watch And While We Were Here a second time? Jane does a lot of mumbling, so I sincerely wondered if I had missed anything important the first time through. Were there details that had escaped my notice, plot information that would make this mess more coherent? No! Readers, I can now say that I watched And While We Were Here a second time so you wouldn’t have to watch it a first time.
The answer is yes, but only if you honestly believe in the conversations between Jane and Grandma Eves (as I obviously do).
But if you don’t then no. There are no scenes in which we actually see Jane interact with any other women on screen. She appears to be totally isolated in her post-pregnancy life and she has no women (no friends and no colleagues) to comfort her.
SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU PLAN TO SEE AND WHILE WE WERE HERE, THEN PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS UNTIL AFTER YOU HAVE SEEN IT. BUT IF YOU DO NOT PLAN TO SEE AND WHILE WE WERE HERE, THEN BY ALL MEANS READ ON…
Before signing off, I feel I should say something about the “older woman/younger man theme.” This has been a critical plot element in at least four of the films I’ve seen by women filmmakers so far this year, spanning the range from comedy (The English Teacher) to tragedy (A Teacher) with Adore and The Lifeguard falling somewhere in between. I liked all four of these films, so my complaints in the case of And While We Were Here are all about execution not intention. The “older woman/younger man theme” can be done well, but in this case it simply isn’t.
Bosworth and Blackley have no chemistry and their rambles around Ischia (walking on the beach, dancing on the quay, diving off the cliff into sapphire blue water) are ludicrous—pure “Tourist Porn” of the most repulsive variety. Are we supposed to laugh at the waiter blubbering in exasperated Italian when they skip out on a restaurant bill? Talk about “Ugly Americans,” eek!
The saddest part is that Claire Bloom is really wonderful as Grandma Eves. It’s the strongest voice performance I’ve “seen” in a film since Marianne Faithful played Maria Theresa in Marie Antoinette. (Faithful is physically present in some of the early scenes, but the majority of her “screen time” consists of voiceovers as the Austrian Empress sends increasingly insistent letters from Vienna to the French Queen—her daughter—in Paris.)
As Grandma Eves reflects on her life—telling Jane story after story about how precious life was for the people living under bombardment during World War II—we get a sense of the film that might have been if only Coiro had kept better control of her story. (I’m assuming here that the title—And While We Were Here—refers to our time here on earth, not the time Jane and Leonard spend in Italy.)
Iddo Goldberg is also very good as Leonard, and his final scene is so strong that I really can see him inheriting Colin Firth’s crown as Firth ages out of the Leading Man category. Maybe that’s the silver lining in my tale of woe? Click HERE to watch a scene from And While We Were Here and judge for yourself.
Top Photo: Jane (Kate Bosworth) listens to one of her interviews with Grandma Eves (Claire Bloom).
Bottom Photo: Jane canoodles on the beach with Caleb (Jamie Blackley).
Photo Credits: © 2013 – Well Go USA
Final Question: Where is this gorgeous paradise?
Answer: Ischia is approximately 90 minutes by ferry from Naples, Italy 🙂