WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS (7 out of 10) Directed by Max Joseph; Written by Max Joseph and Meaghan Oppenheimer; Starring Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer and Jonny Weston; Rated R for language throughout, drug use, sexual content, and some nudity; Running time 96 minutes, In wide release August 28, 2015.
“We Are Your Friends” doesn’t look like it has much going for it. The story of Zac Efron as an up and coming EDM (Electronic Dance Music) DJ doesn’t really seem all that interesting, and the trailers didn’t give much hope that it would be anything more than a sex and drug fueled dramedy. Thankfully, what first-time director Max Joseph has pulled off is an engaging tale of one man’s journey into adulthood and the unexpected highs and lows that accompany his and everyone’s lives.
Cole Carter (Zac Efron) is an occasional DJ at a local club he and his friends, Ollie, Squirrel and Mason (Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer and Jonny Weston, respectively) help promote and sling party drugs during shows. It is here that Cole randomly meets up with James Reed (Wes Bentley), a big deal himself in the EDM scene years ago, and James invites him to a party at a local art gallery because apparently that’s how strangers treat each other in Hollywood.
After a long night of drugs and booze, Cole awakens at Reed’s house and meets his lovely assistant/girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski of “Gone Girl”), and sparks fly as the two instantly develop chemistry and a budding romance that isn’t hindered by the fact that Reed is much older than Sophie. Reed asks to hear a demo of the songs Cole has recorded and while he sees potential, laments the dead and purely electronic sounds in his music. He takes Cole under his wing and challenges him to go out and capture the sounds of real life and use them to create his signature song that will set him apart from all the other DJs in the EDM world.
It’s a credit to Max Joseph and fellow writer Meaghan Oppenheimer that Cole Carter is not portrayed as a down-on-his-luck DJ looking for fame and fortune in the big city. Suspension of disbelief only goes so far, and its boundaries would be stretched quite thin to swallow the idea that anyone like Efron could ever be truly down and out. This isn’t a rags-to-riches story. The characters all pretty much end where they started just a lot wiser from the journey, but it’s refreshing to see a story where the most valuable thing they have earned is wisdom instead of money. Zac Efron also continues to prove he’s maturing into a talented actor, as none of the saccharine sweetness of his Disney days is present, and his frat boy antics from “Neighbors” are absent as well. Cole is a genuinely nice guy, and it’s easy to like his character and root for him when things go badly. The cast in general all work well together and play off each other beautifully, and their shared chemistry makes their friendships and budding relationships completely believable.
“We Are Your Friends” is also visually stunning throughout, punctuated by two standout scenes that take place at different parties – one at the art gallery and the other at Reed’s house. Through the use of clever animation and on-screen words and lyrics that thump in rhythm with the pulsing background music, Joseph effectively manages to tell complete stories in just minutes of screen time that many long-time directors fail to do with their entire films. The only negative thing about this is that they’re such stand out pieces that it makes one wish that more of the movie was presented in such a fashion, and it’s curious why such an effective technique was used so sparingly.
Some may question why Cole’s best friends are in the movie so little considering the idea of friendship and its effects are paramount on the development of everyone else, but this is actually a matter of less being more. While integral to the plot and the development of Cole’s character, their overuse would simply be grating as their personalities, except for Squirrel's, would overpower those of the leads and take the focus away from where it needs to be.
If anything, the biggest complaint here is that’s it’s just too predictable. Anyone will be able to tell how everything will turn out 15 minutes into the film. This isn’t exactly a horrible thing, but it would have been nice if the writers had tried to shake things up a bit instead of relying on tropes seen over and over again throughout the years. There’s also a meandering side plot involving a corrupt mortgage lender played by Jon Bernthal of “Walking Dead” fame that doesn’t really add anything to the story and would have helped tighten up the film had it just been left out.
To say that this is one of the more surprising movies of the summer would be an understatement, as “We Are Your Friends” is a well made, acted and a decently put together film. While it won’t be popping up on any best-of lists at year’s end, it’s a refreshing end to a dismal August that will delight and entertain audiences. Fans of EDM and its culture will find a lot to like, and it exudes enough hope and optimism to resonate strongly with millennials and possibly even older folks who can look back fondly, remembering both the excitement and folly of their youth.
7 out of 10