Leonard (Iddo Goldberg) is a concert viola player, frequently traveling around Europe wherever the orchestra plays. This time, it's Italy, and Jane (Kate Bosworth), his wife, is accompanying him, preparing for a lengthy stay in the country while Leonard rehearses for the big performance. Upon arriving, Jane's credit card is stolen by a pickpocket, so she's left without many options on her first day wandering the city. Almost immediately, however, she runs into Caleb (Jamie Blackley), a talkative teenager who makes terrible viola jokes and recounts his reckless youth. Before Jane is fully aware of what's happening, she finds herself falling for Caleb, and increasingly aware of the growing distance between Leonard and herself.
And While We Were Here often feels like a conscious attempt to redo Lost in Translation from a different angle. Both films feature a lonely wife, put off by their husband's obsession with work, who meets a fun stranger to explore the country with. The major difference is that the story is told from the woman's perspective rather than a man's, and the focus is distinctly romantic, rather than leaving that angle ambiguous. Of course, this takes what is an unusual relationship and makes it conventional, a tired story about a woman wondering if her marriage has gone stale and searching for youth. There are some potentially interesting ideas in Kat Coiro's script that go against that grain, but they're all quickly abandoned for the usual cliches and tropes.
One of the few things worth appreciating as the film gets going is the character of Caleb. It would be easy to write character like Caleb as an unrealistic fantasy version of an attractive young man -- a Confident Smooth Dream Guy, if you will. Instead, there's an authentic crudeness to his persistent attempts to charm Jane. His energy is actually kind of exhausting, but it helps turn Jane's interest in him into more than just "the person her husband isn't." Blackley is also a good choice for the role, projecting an authentic scruffiness.
Unfortunately, the film spends more time with Jane and Leonard than it does with Caleb, and Jane and Leonard are far less interesting. Leonard, in particular, is not as well-written as Caleb, exemplifying a long list of bland "bad husband" traits, like not listening to Jane's existential questions about David Foster Wallace's suicide, and missing her cues to question her about her emotional state. The film's only got 85 minutes to tell their story, but the film opens with their relationship already somewhat strained (he says the wrong thing in regards to her book about her Grandmother's WWI and WWII experiences). For the film's intended love triangle to get its hooks in, the viewer needs a better sense of who Leonard was at his best, and by the time Coiro provides some (around the middle), it's too late.
Throughout, Coiro makes good use of Jane's tapes of her grandmother, which will be used to write her book, and most of the movie has a nice atmosphere automatically provided by the Italian setting. As the film shifts into the second half, however, the entire movie goes on autopilot, treating us to boring montages of Jane and Caleb that successfully rob the picture of his endearing youthful energy, and reduce the imagery to that of an instagram music video. In the film's big dramatic moments, Bosworth is flat, failing to find variety in her many depictions of stagnation with Leonard, only briefly lighting up a little during some of her adventures with Caleb. A rote and rushed conclusion is the final nail in the coffin, revealing the film to be as vague as Jane's lack of marital fulfillment.
The poster art (and now Blu-Ray art) for And While We Were Here is oddly washed out, giving Kate Bosworth a ghostly appearance. A bit more of the film's golden sand color in the art would be much appreciated. The disc comes in an eco-friendly Vortex Blu-Ray case, and there is an insert advertising other WellGo USA releases.
The Video and Audio
And While We Were Here was clearly shot on digital, and the resulting 2.39:1 1080p AVC presentation is all over the map in a number of strange ways. Fine detail is frequently quite poor, with people at a middle or deep distance in wide shots appearing blobby and ill-defined. Contrast is unnaturally boosted in some scenes, resulting in obvious black and white crush. In at least one shot, ugly digital artifacts appear, materializing in the shadows like giant, ugly blemishes. Colors are quite inconsistent, likely the result of post-production grading to make the film feel cohesive. Most of the time, they look a touch pushed, with pink skin leaning toward red, or black shadows turning slightly green, but in a couple of shots the color seems inaccurately desaturated, taking on a cooler appearance. I also spotted minor instances of banding and shimmer, and there's even an establishing shot or two that just doesn't look like high definition, exhibiting the blocky and garish appearance of consumer-grade digital video. There are certainly plenty of times, in the bright Italian sun, where the picture looks fine. Still, the long list of issues are hard to ignore.
Audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The film is dialogue-heavy and light on surround effects. Although this is true of many of the films I review for DVDTalk, this track in particular feels so oddly simple that there's really not much else to say. Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included. There are some errors in the subtitles, though -- at one point, for instance, it seems the captions should be translating some graffiti from Italian to English, but they simply retype what is already written in Italian.
Only one supplement is included, and it's not really an "extra," per se: a black-and-white version of the film, identified as the "director's version", is also included. Personally, I think the style detracts from the film, robbing it of its golden brown ambience, but it does cover up some of the deficiencies in the picture quality. Audio and subtitle options are the same for the B&W version as the color, but the B&W features yellow subtitles instead of white.
An original theatrical trailer for And While We Were Here rounds out the disc, and trailers for Slightly Single in L.A., Not Suitable For Children, and Mystery Road are also included.
This drab foreign romance can't make its love triangle work, reducing it to little more than a pretty postcard with a tired letter on the other side. Skip it.
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