Who We Are Now (3 stars)

Who We Are Now

EIFF 2018: Julianne Nicholson is on fine form in this tough rehabilitation drama

Who We Are Now is a tough, well-acted drama from Australian writer-director Matthew Newton. Also known as an actor, Newton has a chequered past that's been widely reported in his home country. It's tempting to imagine why this story of legal and domestic angst might have offered some catharsis to him, but there's also enjoyable vitality in his ability to coax strong performances from his cast.

Julianne Nicholson plays Beth, a feisty woman who has served jail-time for manslaughter, and hopes to rebuild her life and regain custody of her son. Her sister Gabby (Jess Weixler), who has raised the boy as her own, stands firmly in her way, but a chance meeting with driven lawyer Jess (Emma Roberts) gives Beth hope that she might be able to exploit her sister's own past to her advantage.

Newton withholds information, to such an extent that the actual reason for Beth's spell in prison is revealed only minutes from the film's conclusion. That's a problem, in that it leaves the audience in the dark, with Beth's ex-serviceman boyfriend Peter (Zachary Quinto) the only one who is comparably out of the loop. This creates emotional distance, reducing empathy and impact, and making Beth's final dilemma rather too easily solved.

The power of Newton's film comes from the way he digs into Beth's vulnerability, depicting her inability to help herself. Aided by support including Jimmy Smits and a memorably slimy Jason Biggs, Nicholson makes quite a fist of conveying how the often unpleasant Beth can be her own worst enemy.

Shot in a naturalistic, deliberately unhurried way, Who We Are Now packs some of the punch that characterised the similarly melancholy Manchester by the Sea. But Beth's story could have done with a little more development to explore how the contradictions of her nature might be resolved.

Screening as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2018. General release TBC.

Who We Are Now

  • 3 stars
  • 15

Beth (Nicholson) has served time in prison for manslaughter and now wants to rebuild her life and regain custody of her son. Newton coaxes strong performances from his cast but the story is a little underdeveloped, which creates emotional distance; still, it’s punchy and naturalistic.