Directed by Max Joseph. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Liza Chasin. Written by Max Joseph and Meaghan Oppenheimer. Release date: August 28, 2015.
The most predictable genre in cinema is probably the coming-of-age movie, perhaps because just by listing that genre, you already know almost exactly where it’s going to end. An immature character is going to experience a bunch of events that will change his or her world perspective and effectively force a big “grow up” moment, after which this individual is never the same – but for the better. We Are Your Friends – whoever came up with that title needs to be fired – is a coming-of-age film, this time set around a DJ from the Valley who wants to make it to the big time.
That DJ is Cole (Zac Efron), who explains to us that in order to become a DJ, all you need is a laptop, some talent, and a signature track. He has the first two of those, but is lacking the third and arguably most important. He and his friends – played by Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez, and Alex Shaffer; their characters names aren’t ones you’ll remember – work a club, hang out and smoke spliffs, but ultimately are stuck in the Valley, which is not where you want to be stuck. They come across like the cast of Entourage, only much less successful and possibly better people. But the focus soon goes to Cole and his relationship with a successful DJ, James (Wes Bentley), and James’ girlfriend/assistant, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski).
The main idea here is that Cole needs to “find himself” with his music, and does so thanks to James’ advice to listen to what the world has to offer and incorporate it into his music. As such, the “signature track” he’s trying to create winds up acting as a metaphor for all of the experiences that he has over the course of the film. When it’s over, and he’s learned all he needs to, he’ll have created the track and it will represent his growth as a character. This isn’t a bad idea, and by the time he finally gets to play it, I actually got goosebumps. This scene wants so badly to be Whiplash that it’s not even funny, but it still works rather effectively.
We Are Your Friends is at its best when it focuses on one of two things: (1) the trio of Cole, James, and Sophie, or (2) the electronic dance music (EDM) that Cole uses when mixing his tracks. The former works because the relationships are interesting and because Wes Bentley’s performance is so unhinged that it’s fascinating to watch. The latter is effective only if you actually like EDM. If that’s your scene, then you’re going to very much appreciate what We Are Your Friends has to offer; if it’s not, then stay far away, since you’ll hate listening to almost all of the film.
For the most part, we’re watching a solid but unspectacular movie about a DJ who needs to alter his perspective on both life and his own music.
Our movie has been directed and co-written by one Max Joseph, whose previous claim to fame was the co-host and cameraman of Catfish: The TV Show, something I previously didn’t know existed. He occasionally imbues We Are Your Friends with some style, but nowhere frequently enough to distract from its tired, predictable plot. Take the scene where Cole trips out on PCP. We get a few moments where half the scene is rotoscoped, and it’s incredible. Some of the cinematographic choices may remind viewers of something like Spring Breakers, which is never a bad thing. But these moments are few and far between; for the most part, we’re watching a solid but unspectacular movie about a DJ who needs to alter his perspective on both life and his own music.
As that DJ, Zac Efron does a good job, filling Cole with sincerity and a touch of sadness. Efron hasn’t exactly had a great career so far, only having maybe three genuinely good performances, but this might be the best one to-date, even though the bar isn’t particularly high. Emily Ratajkowski – speaking of Entourage connections – isn’t a good actress and maybe never will be, but it’s not like he lack of depth hurts a movie like this one. Wes Bentley, I already mentioned, gives us a performance that forces us to keep our eyes on the screen. He’s self-destructive and chewing scenery for the entire running time, and it’s great to watch. Cole’s friends are fine; they’re believable as a long-time clique, but are so forgettable they fade from the foreground far too easily – even if the film does, at one point, want us to care about at least one of their fates.
The amount one likes We Are Your Friends essentially boils down to how fond one is of EDM. If you like the music and the scene with which it is associated, you’re going to like a generic coming-of-age story following one of its DJs. If you find it insufferable, you’ll find the soundtrack, the characters, the setting, and the plot similarly off-putting. The movie has some stylish flourishes, a couple of good performances, and a strong idea – marrying the coming-of-age plot with creating a signature track – and it’s not boring. It’ll be beloved by its target audience, although it’ll also likely feel dated in a few years when the EDM craze is replaced by something else. I’m personally hoping for noise music, if only because I think it’d be funny to see it played at a club.
Bottom Line: We Are Your Friends is a passable coming-of-age movie with artistic flourishes that make you feel like it had more potential.
Recommendation: If you like EDM, We Are Your Friends will likely be something you’ll enjoy. If you don’t, stay far away.[rating=3]
If you want more of Matthew “Marter” Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet and check out his weekly movie podcast.