You’ll be hard-pressed to find a movie suffering from a more devastating identity crisis this year than Max Joseph’s We Are Your Friends – an inspirational story looking to capitalize on society’s current obsession with “Electronic Dance Music.” You’d think it’d be a poor man’s Entourage story, where sexy Zac Efron turns rags to riches by mastering GarageBand’s loop feature, but if that’s your assumption, you’re DEATHLY wrong.
Joseph and co-writer Meaghan Oppenheimer are all over the map with their sloppy attempt to dissect the house DJ culture, and even more egregious is their failure to inspire vocal individuality in the minds of young onlookers. It’s a movie that’s supposed to get your ambitious drive pumping, yet continually finds itself in need of resuscitation by any means possible (aka the objectification of Emily Ratajkowski). What can I say: eat, sleep, watch this movie, and never repeat again.
The movie follows an up-and-coming DJ named Cole Carter (Zac Efron), a hopeful celebrity looking to bring his best friends along for the ride. Mason (Jonny Weston) acts as his manager, Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez) brings the “party favors,” and Squirrel (Alex Shaffer) – well, he’s just a really nice dude. Night after night, Cole and his crew take to local hot-spots in the hopes of getting noticed, which eventually pays off when James Reese (Wes Bentley) invites Cole to demo a few tunes in his lavish recording studio. Cole’s big break is visibly on the horizon, but his judgement becomes muddied by James’ smokin’ hot girlfriend, Sophia (Emily Ratajkowski), who he of course takes a liking to. Cole can do right by his friends, chase DJ glory, or nab the girl of his dreams – but each choice has massive consequences.
The problem with We Are Your Friends is that it accomplishes absolutely none of the things Joseph sets out to do. Instead of inspiring hope, the film acts as a reminder that most of us will lead dull, anonymous lives, as to cheekily reassure us “It’ll be alright, kid!” with absolutely no sincere sympathy. Instead of dissecting a booming musical culture ripe with drug debates and insta-fame, Cole’s DJ journey is contrived, mundane, and wholly uninspiring. Cole is the stereotypical button-pusher who believes all his idols are now sellouts, and only his unbridled creativity can save the masses from overpaid hacks who just phone gigs in for quick paycheck. Kind of like how Joseph phones in a few Vine cameo gags to start the film off, hoping to fool younger viewers with the promise of similar distractions down the road. Hell, at the least we’re gifted an apocalyptic view of society’s shrinking attention span as we celebrate internet stars and music that’s accompanied by flashy lights. Moths to a flame, people – moths to a flame.
We Are Your Friends is a movie that struggles to build momentum, like a DJ who just can’t seem to find the right beat. It’s like Max Joseph can read his audience’s displeasure, so he claws ferociously to keep our minds fixated on the beautiful raving bodies in front of us, but fails time and time again. Yet, we reach a moment of hope, where Joseph finally catches us with a riffy hook (Cole’s individuality breakout), and he slowly builds toward that inevitable bass drop of cinematic pleasure that we’ve been yearning for all film. Steadily he builds, keeping us fixated on the heightening vibes, growing into a monster he’s ready to unleash, and just when we think We Are Your Friends will finally burst in an explosion of dubstepping beauty, someone pulls the plug on Joseph’s speakers and the entire room goes dead (metaphorically).
In an effort to not spoil the script’s heartfelt turn, Cole’s group is dealt a tragic blow – and let’s leave it there. This is supposed to raise the stake’s of Cole’s suburban escape, but instead it kills any and all momentum Joseph had finally built. We’re left like a dancing crowd who abruptly lost its music and dark, atmospheric light show, gazing around at one another like a group of shell-shocked zombies. I understand the motives for such a gut-wrenching plot device, but instead of finding inspiration, someone slams on the tonal brakes of Joseph’s live-free-or-die-trying vibe and steers the moving vehicle down a confusingly dreary path. Some movies can pull this one-eighty off – We Are Your Friends is not one of them.
None of the downfalls have much to do with Efron, whose (surprisingly hidden) chiseled form is perfect for every DJ’s go-to outfit of a tank top and shorts. He’s got the physique of a West Coast jockey, and the minimal qualifications to operate a playlist. But kidding aside, the spiky-haired fist-pumper actually conveys a vested interest in the rhythmic hypnosis of EDM music, and his mid-set instructional talks provide momentary depth into the art of (electronically) spinning tracks.
The same can’t be said about his romantic love interest, as Emily Ratajkowski finds herself implanted in scenes so the camera can shamelessly lock in on her braless breast while her gyrating hips bounce them around. Ratajkowski has so much more to offer, but she’s reduced to being a succulent piece of eye-candy that any hot young thing could have stepped in as. Most of the other cast members suffer a similar fate of predictable character mapping, from Cole’s destructive mentor to his hot-headed friend, which leaves Efron to shoulder the brunt of Joseph’s film alone – something he simply can’t do given the bro-tacular bond between his BFFs.
There’s just too much jumbled energy in We Are Your Friends to truly create a synchronized orchestra of brooding emotional drama. Cole’s romance with Sophia is ill-advised yet overly effortless, his path to stardom hinges on a silly realization, and the dark depths of his struggle creates tonal black holes that drain the essence out of each preceding scene – like the film actually wants to confuse us. Joseph is striving for something realistic, a more grounded take on famedom dramas depicting easy rides and unlimited fame, but his handling of each scripted shift infuriates instead of pleases. You won’t have any friends after screening yet another dumped corpse of an August release film. Not Zac Efron, not Max Joseph, not Emily Ratajkowski, and most certainly not whoever you bring to screen We Are Your Friends with you.
This is one friend I can live without.
We Are Your Friends is a disastrous hodgepodge of tonal chaos, jerking our emotions around like a song that can't decide between being Moombahton or Brostep (I have no idea what either of those mean).