Kat Coiro’s And While We Were Here strives in vain to form a kinship with Voyage to Italy, but her insipid film ends up looking more like a version of Roberto Rossellini’s masterpiece reworked as a photo diary posted on Facebook. Coiro means to evoke irony with her depiction of a marriage falling apart amid the romantic locales of Italy, yet her overindulgence in photographing the gorgeous vistas and old-world charm of the country only expose more how glaringly undeveloped and derivative her idly-shaped characters and film are.
Kate Bosworth plays Jane, a writer with a privileged white chip on her shoulder who’s stuck in an uneventful union with violist Leonard (Iddo Goldberg). After traveling to Naples, where Leonard is to play in an orchestra, Jane eventually ferries to Ischia, where she bumps into 19-year-old Caleb (Jamie Blackley). The teen is just what Jane needs after some bad sex with the brooding and boring Leonard, someone who just doesn’t “see” her (according to Jane), as the tank top-wearing Caleb is filled with youthful vigor and wit, his underachieving bro attitude laced with just the right amount of sensitivity where he can talk about Michelangelo’s subtext with confidence. As the pheromones Caleb emits are too much for Jane to resist, she begins an affair with him and is swept away, finding new inspiration in writing her book about her grandmother’s life during World War II. This is the kind of substance Coiro uses to fill her tell-don’t-show narrative, ultimately not even holding an ashen Pompeii victim to her classic inspiration.
Speaking of concrete images of death as crumbling matrimony metaphor, Coiro uses her own symbol in the memory of a miscarried child Jane uses as a weapon against Leonard when their unhappiness reaches a fever pitch. Because Leonard is so thinly drawn, his presence is only meant to add “nuance” to Jane’s character so her dispirited situation becomes dramatically gratifying, and only exposes Jane’s stuck-up personality more. Jane is so detached from reality to the point where she appears to live in a romance novel, her standards so high that her irritation toward her husband stem from the fact that he can’t reach her level—and, in the end, Caleb naturally suffers the same fate as well. Coiro, not knowing how to use her needless widescreen ratio, frames these confrontation scenes like cheap Antonioni, failing to capture any sly critique of bourgeois ennui he excelled at.
More egregious is how Coiro orchestrates the film’s universe to actively work in Jane’s favor, with no rewarding conflict arising because the world throws only incidents that benefit her emotional state. Jane was bound to meet someone like Caleb when she’s so dispassionate about her husband, and of course this younger man recites Italian poetry and appropriate viola jokes when he looks more likely to rattle off Dave Matthews Band lyrics. It’s only Claire Bloom’s unseen grandmother who has the right idea to get out, ending the film with a “Now shut that thing off!” toward Jane’s tape recorder. Bloom, like us, would most likely rather stroll through an ancient city with Ingrid Bergman at our side.