We Are Your Friends
When I reported on Straight Outta Compton dominating its second weekend in the box office, I mentioned that it could meet a challenge in We Are Your Friends, the EDM movie headlined by two of Hollywood’s hottest stars: Zac Efron, the High School Musical star turned male sex symbol; and Emily Ratajkowski, the “Blurred Lines” model who successfully transitioned into an acting career. And with EDM as popular now as it’s ever been, it seemed like the movie had a fighting chance against Compton.
I was the only person in my theater. On opening weekend. When it grossed a whopping $1.77 million.
It doesn’t take long to see why. Aspiring DJ Cole Carter (Efron) lives with three friends in the San Fernando Valley – a.k.a. everything behind the Hollywood sign. The scene proves memorable with Cole’s narration, sharp editing, and clever graphics: all of which give us a good sense about who Cole is. But from a promising opening, We Are Your Friends quickly falls from grace.
Speaking of falling from grace, this is when we meet James (Wes Bentley), a former superstar DJ whose alcoholism was his downfall. Somehow, James keeps a girlfriend around – the beautiful and young Sophie (Ratajkowski). Being taken under James’ wing, Cole is sculpted by criticism into a DJ who is an inspiration or two away from mixing “that one track.” It’s his ticket to stardom.
Cole and Sophie, however, begin to fall for one another – right under James’ nose, which is always in a nightly glass of whiskey. It’s another complication for Cole, who is already under the pressure of staying and working with his friends as a music group. His journey to hit it big gets awfully dicey.
Seeing that this is an EDM movie, director Max Joseph uses visual and aural styles to match. Sharp, pinpoint editing and the aforementioned graphics perfectly suit the EDM that underscores Cole's pursuit for fame. Truth be told, it matches his freneti jump-around-town lifestyle quite well, as if the movie were an overly prolonged music video. But these bells and whistles hardly do a thing to elevate what is ultimately an unremarkable tale.
Cole’s journey is dotted with clichés – the romance, the estranged mentor, the loss of a friend – and relatively little stands out because of their abundance. Efron and Ratajkowski’s performances also don’t help the movie’s case; their respective characters lack the ambition and passion they say they have, and often spend more time standing around and looking pretty rather than anything else. Just as they’re not convinced about their own motivations, we’re not convinced they’re real, authentic characters. There’s a happy exception in a Las Vegas montage where Cole and Sophie share a night of escape and romance, but every other scene feels hopelessly subpar by comparison.
By the end, Cole finally creates his breakout track (who didn't see that coming?) by mixing the individual sounds he encounters in his daily life. As it turns out, the pieces were there all along. But We Are Your Friends only has less than half of the needed pieces, and it fails to bring them together harmoniously. Even with a couple of strong scenes, the lack of a memorable story and strong characters to unify them makes We Are Your Friends dull, disjointed, and not worth experiencing – the antithesis to the music that inspires it.
Running Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.
Written by Max Joseph, Meaghan Oppenheimer, and Richard Silverman. Directed by Max Joseph.
Starring Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, and Emily Ratajkowski.