We Are Your Friends is Max Joseph’s directorial feature debut, about drugs, booze and electronic dance music (EDM). Having already made a name for himself in Catfish: The TV Show, and having directed various music videos, Joseph seemed like a good fit to helm a film that shines light onto EDM and youth culture alike. Squarely aimed at an audience no older than thirty (alright maybe twenty-five), the film relies heavily on a fast-paced, MTV-style editing to tell it’s coming-of-age story, that’s a noticeable attempt to retain it’s younger viewers limited attention spans.
Trapped within the flat, suburban nightmare that is the San Fernando Valley, Cole Carter (Zac Efron) is an aspiring DJ set on making his mark in the electronic dance music scene in Los Angeles. Along with his friends: promoter and hustler Mason (Johnny Weston), struggling actor Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez) and the introverted Squirrel (Alex Shaffer), they all share the same dream of escaping the Valley and making it big in show business. After a chance meeting with successful DJ and mentor, James Reed (Wes Bentley), who suffers from issues like alcoholism and supposedly selling out for fame, the world of the rich and famous is opened up at Cole’s feet. Now he’s left to navigate his friendships and career, which seem directly at odds, as well as falling for James’ girlfriend and assistant, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski).
Efron (Bad Neighbours) continues his run of films directed towards a more mature audience (that is 18+) but still makes time for gratuitous ab shots and bicep flexes. His acting is fairly solid, and he seems to have found his niche in playing characters that can be described solely with the word ‘dude’, but still come off as likeable. Bentley (Interstellar) slips right into his douchey character with ease, and Ratajkowski (Gone Girl) has no trouble being the object of desire although she at least gets to have some semblance here of being something more.
With a score composed by electronic musician Segal, as well as a selection of EDM hits, there is undoubtedly a life force injected into the film through the music that warrants complimenting. There is a certain irony though, that in a film that tries overly hard to be up to the minute, it uses electronic hits that are now months old upon release. The film does well to turn the rather mundane practice of DJing into a dramatic affair, especially during it’s climax, when Cole’s pressing of buttons during his set holds as much weight as a soldier fighting for his life in battle. There’s also a build up to Cole “finding his sound”, which might leave some viewers with an unintentional smirk on their faces due to what is a rather imaginative track.
Following the films rather enjoyable first and second acts, the story does begin to lose its way when a tragic even occurs at the beginning of the third. The narrative attempts to have real consequences, but can’t help unrealistically pulling characters back together in order to have a more cohesive conclusion. This leaves a bad taste in the mouth, only made worse when Joseph attempts a “real world” ending, where the characters don’t receive any real solid resolutions beyond hinting at possible futures, imaginably in favour of suggesting that life is never finite like in a Hollywood movie.
Having said that, the messages that the film promotes also suffer in the last act. Is the film trying to say to never give up on your dreams even if it means compromising your beliefs? Or is it that drinking and taking drugs is bad, and that bad things will happen if you do? Or is it drinking and taking drugs is fine as long as there is money to be made from it? It becomes clear that by the film swaying to support one of these messages means compromising on another, and so it instead refuses to commit to any in particular. For example, after (spoilers) a character overdoses and dies, the boys reflect on the evilness of drugs and momentarily renounce use ever again. Yet, Cole still tries to find success in a music culture that goes hand in hand with drug use, and while the idea of continuing to chase his dream is important, it can’t stop the nagging feeling that perhaps this isn’t the right course of action.
We Are Your Friends evidently sets out to not only capture the spirit of EDM culture, but also be the voice of the millennial generation. Most audiences will debate if it actually has enough to say to do either, but as to whether it ultimately becomes a defining statement of a generation or an example of a it’s egotism, only time will tell.
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