WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS Movie Review – EDM DJs Will Save Us All
We, meaning all of us, may be witnessing, not the beginning of the end in the classical sense, but perhaps something else altogether, Peak Efron, that moment in time — or more accurately, the space-time continuum — when the universe, unbeknownst to all but a few, begins its inevitable contraction, ending in a reverse Big Bang (followed, presumably, by a new Big Bang). There’s no other logical explanation for Zac Efron’s acting career. A onetime Disney Channel star (High School Musical), Efron has managed to make the Grand Canyon-sized leap into a relatively successful big-screen career. Perfectly cast as a dude-bro’s dude-bro in last year’s Neighbors (an inevitable sequel is on the way), Efron has been connected to a big-screen Baywatch adaptation (with Dwayne Johnson in David Hasselhoff’s Speedo, no less). Before then, however, Efron’s fanbase (you know who you are) will have to content themselves with We Are Your Friends, a joyless, derivative drama structured around the music biopic formula Straight Outta Compton did so well just two weeks ago.
In We Are Your Friends, Efron stretches his acting muscles (or muscle, depending on your perspective on his acting skills or lack thereof) to essay Cole Carter, a 23-year-old wannabe DJ who calls the Valley, the San Fernando Valley on the other (far worse) side of the Hollywood Hills, his home. He barely ekes out a living as a local EDM (that’s “Electronic Dance Music” for the uninitiated) DJ, relying on his friend/promoter, Mason (Jonny Weston), an obnoxious, temperamental prick, to get him gigs, a second friend, Squirrel (Alex Shaffer), to provide emotional and group support, while the last member of the soon-to-be-separable quartet, Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), deals party drugs (an apparent source of income for Cole and Co.). Together, they’re far from unstoppable; they’re often their own worst enemies, sabotaging themselves more than helping themselves. But it’s all good as long as Cole, the “talented” one in the group, makes it as a professional, globe-trotting DJ. They can come along as members of his entourage. Or such is their dream anyway.
A shared spliff outside a nightclub with James Reed (Wes Bentley), a super-successful pro DJ, is all the help Cole needs. Actually, that’s not entirely right. While the perpetually drunk and drugged up Reed plays occasional mentor to Cole, giving him access to professional recording equipment and traditional instruments, part of Reed’s eventual plan to get Cole to listen, really listen to the world outside his computer to develop his own signature sound, Cole falls hard, like dropping a beat hard, for Reed’s assistant/live-in girlfriend, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski, Entourage: The Movie, Gone Girl). Not surprisingly, a rift eventually develops between Cole and his dude-bro friends, with only Squirrel (“Mouse” was taken apparently), the only dude-bro with some uncommon sense in his head. Cole’s friends become more a hindrance than a help, a not altogether unpredictable plot turn in a film overflowing with overly familiar plot turns.
We Are Your Friends takes an unexpectedly dark, grim turn, however, a tone and mood reversal that neither director Max Joseph, making his feature-length debut, nor his co-screenwriter, Meaghan Oppenheimer, working from a story credited to Richard Silverman, fully or even partially earn. Joseph and Oppenheimer wrote themselves into the proverbial second-act corner and, incapable of writing themselves out of that corner, took the cheapest most manipulative way out, souring what otherwise was and should have a light, superficial take on EDM and the clichéd story of one idealistic DJ who just wants to make everyone dance (and never stop dancing). Periodic attempts at profundity and self-conscious seriousness, including an unnecessary subplot involving Cole and his crew working for a rapacious, unscrupulous real estate broker (Are there any other kind?), Paige (Jon Bernthal, channeling Michael Douglas’s Wall Street character and Alec Baldwin’s similarly motivated one in Glengarry Glen Ross), never rise above the laughable.
While Joseph and Oppenheimer certainly should have thought twice about attempting to inject handwringing contemporary relevance in an otherwise light, lightweight film, Joseph shows occasional flashes of talent, inspiration, and imagination, specifically during a literally animated drug trip inside an art gallery and one or two other moments when he’s focused entirely on merging dance club or rave visuals with the best EDM money can buy (big, even major ups to music supervisor Randall Poster and his beat-savvy team). Only time — and quite possibly copious amounts of party drugs — will tell if Efron’s eyebrow-raising, outsize claim that his generation has found their Saturday Night Fever in We Are Your Friends has any merit whatsoever (here’s a prediction from the future: It doesn’t).