Blue Crush remains one of my favorite movies of its genre (which is — what? Sports romance? I’m not sure). The hilarious badness of its storyline combined with the revolutionary beauty of its surfing footage makes it the perfect hangover movie, or perfect pump-up movie, depending on your mood. It was Kate Bosworth’s first major role, not counting TV’s short-lived Dawson’s Creek clone Young Americans, and in it, she plays an overly serious semi-professional surfer who has been so serious for so long that the second an NFL player shows up roaming the hallways of the hotel at which she works, she is pretty much ready to drop everything, even if it is six days before the biggest championship of her life thus far — her comeback, since we are reminded often that she suffered a “near-fatal accident” as a teenager (when I said bad I meant clichéd) and hasn’t been quite the same since.
Watching a few more Kate Bosworth movies after Blue Crush, I realized that Kate Bosworth’s character in Blue Crush wasn’t overly serious; Kate Bosworth is overly serious. She has a tendency to wear a very stern expression. She can walk pretty stiffly around her films, self-conscious sometimes of the fact that the camera is rolling. But I still root for her, believing that what she has to offer just hasn’t yet been matched with good enough scripts. Did she carry Blue Crush? I think she did. It’s not her fault that the film couldn’t be both nearly impossible to shoot and good.
Technology has since made films easier to shoot. A beautiful film can be made fairly easily on a handheld camera. At the same time, Bosworth’s career has seen an increasing number of creative but not necessarily rich people interested in giving Bosworth the kind of roles she deserves. And While We Were Here, written and directed by Kat Coiro, seems to mark Bosworth’s arrival in grownup movie land. Coiro, who also wrote and directed last year’s Kristen Ritter-starring Life Happens, makes a bold departure from her previous work here, in the sense that she has chosen to do something that isn’t so bold or so in-your-face. Critics might say it’s a perfume ad; I say it’s a novella on film. Set on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, it’s a sendup of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight trio, but it’s a much quieter movie. There is less talking and more connecting: Bosworth’s Jane and her 20-year-old love interest, Caleb, played by Jamie Blackley, become close quickly. They’re in the middle of some journey (or in Caleb’s case, really at the beginning), and are both rudderless. Because of their desperation, or at least hunger for something bigger than what life has so far shown them, it takes very little time, and very few words, for them to become infatuated with each other.
Never mind that Bosworth’s character is married to Leonard (Iddo Goldberg), a reticent Englishman and professional viola player, who is in Italy to perform. A tragedy has come between Jane and Leonard, and it affects Jane more deeply than Leonard. Partly, it’s because Jane has more time to think about the tragedy: she is a freelance journalist who is also writing a book about her grandparents’ experiences in England during the Second World War. Throughout the film, Jane listens to tapes of her grandmother talking about the war. This is a welcome addition to the story, and it helps these characters step outside of their safe and relatively fortuitous lives. But Jane, forever changed by her trauma — nothing so big as a war, but difficult all the same — doubts her ability to write something original and important. Meanwhile, Leonard is frustrated by her, perhaps feeling that she’s failing herself. Caleb steps in, a lithe American living for free in the basement of a distant elderly relative’s house on the island of Ischia. He follows Jane around one afternoon as she takes in the sights of Ischia, where she has gone by boat for a day trip.
The premise — a lost young married woman tagging along with her working husband to an exotic location — of course feels very Lost In Translation. Here, a 20-year-old vagabond proves nearly as interesting a teacher as Bill Murray’s 60-something famous actor in Sofia Coppola’s excellent film. Not that Jane needs a man to show her how she should be living her life; it’s just that a person’s vision of the world is that much more persuasive when you’re sexually attracted to them. So Jane lets Caleb follow her around, tentative, but soon enough she’s smitten by him: he’s impulsive, goofy, awkward, reckless. She’s not even 30 yet, but she feels older than her years. Caleb awakens some deeply buried part of her. They smoke a joint in the middle of a square while Leonard watches on, boringly reminding Jane that she doesn’t, to his knowledge, smoke weed. For Jane to taunt her husband in this way is rather twisted; we realize then that she is in a great deal more pain than she first appeared. Caleb can’t provide the exit to some quick and blissful healing — Jane must figure that out herself — but he might provide a window.
And While We Were Here is beautifully shot (by Doug Chamberlain) in a palette of whites and beiges, right down to the furniture in the couple’s sparse hotel room and Kate Bosworth’s impeccable wardrobe. About that wardrobe: it is even more painful to watch a woman move woundedly and tensely, as Jane does in a climactic interior scene with her husband, in sophisticated clothes that were designed for enjoyment, for relaxation, for vacation. Swimming in a bay with Caleb one evening, Jane wears more girlish clothes. They’re still suggestive, but frilly and youthful. In this aesthetically-minded film, such details don’t go unnoticed. So even if viewers are hoping for more punch, more words, more drama, those can be found in unexpected places in this film, if you’re patient enough to look for them.