Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: We Are Your Friends

by Adam Riske
The new Zac Efron DJ movie that no one is seeing is actually pretty good.

We Are Your Friends tells the story of an up-and-coming young DJ named Cole Carter (Zac Efron) who dreams of making it big. But first he has to get his head out of his laptop and stop imitating all of the other laptop DJs and begin using real-world sounds in order to create that signature track that will put him on the map. Sounds like a ridiculous premise for a movie, right? Well it is. And it isn’t. I say it isn’t because the movie takes its premise deadly seriously and as a result, I did as an audience member, too. It was wise of the filmmakers to make We Are Your Friends a smart character study as it lends the story the credibility it desperately needed. It plays no sillier than something like Saturday Night Fever, Hustle & Flow or 8 Mile. This movie is basically how Skrillex or Calvin Harris became Skrillex or Calvin Harris. I don’t know. I was on board for that. You might not be.
I think I enjoyed We Are Your Friends as much as I did because it owes so much to a movie I love, which is Saturday Night Fever. Like that movie, We Are Your Friends is about how its protagonist has to shed the bad influences in his life -- non-stop partying, some of his bro friends and a dishonest, dead-end job -- in order to make the next step in his career/passion, which is being a DJ. There’s also a romance between Cole and Sophie (played by the ubiquitous Emily Ratajkowski), the assistant/girlfriend to a DJ named James Reed (Wes Bentley) who has “made it” and is now world-famous, which Cole desperately wants to be. Sophie and James are the keys to Cole’s next step of evolution in both social standing (Sophie and James are rich) and artistry as a musician (James becomes Cole’s mentor and lets him use his studio).

However, the difference between a great movie (like Saturday Night Fever) and a good movie (like We Are Your Friends) has to do in part with its lead performance, since the entire movie hinges on that main character’s journey. Zac Efron is not John Travolta. While I think Efron is a likeable actor, he’s sort of a blank slate and that keeps We Are Your Friends at arm’s length emotionally. Travolta in Saturday Night Fever was much more raw and vivacious, which made that lead performance one for the ages. We Are Your Friends desperately needs that and it doesn’t have it from Efron. As a result, the movie stands as a respectable drama but not one of the greats.
One aspect I appreciated about the movie is that it explores what it’s like to be in your early 20s and of marginal employment. Cole and his friends end up working for a real estate telemarketer (played slimily by Jon Bernthal) who promises them quick cash but at the cost of crushing your soul and your dreams. Many people in their early 20s are faced with job propositions like that coming off of high school or college and We Are Your Friends is one of the few movies I can remember that captures that phase in many young people’s lives so vividly. It’s a movie that recognizes that your dreams will be relegated to nights and weekends if you cave in and work for the man. That’s pretty deep for what could have been a silly DJ movie. In fact, the more I write this review, you know what other solid movie We Are Your Friends is starting to remind me of? Magic Mike. They both are about the party (stripping, playing music etc.) but more so about the lifestyle and economic situations of its characters. Think of We Are Your Friends as the little brother of Magic Mike and you might like it.
August is known as a dumping ground for Hollywood movies, but I tend to disagree with that and this year is no different. A lot of interesting movies that don’t depend on being tentpoles coming out in August (including The End of the Tour, The Gift, Straight Outta Compton, People Places Things, Turbo Kid) and I’d put We Are Your Friends in that grouping as well. Actually this is the perfect bridge movie between the party-time movies of the summer and the more somber dramas of the fall. Based on its box office performance, We Are Your Friends will probably be out of theaters pretty soon. I recommend you catch it. It exceeded my expectations going in and is about to be overlooked. It’s not great, but director Max Joseph (who does a solid job of effectively handling the tone and employing just enough flash while also respecting the audience’s intelligence) has given us a good and entertaining drama, with great music, and that’s reason enough to give it a spin.


  1. Zac Efron's vacant eyes scare me so much. He always reminds me of that quote from Jaws about how sharks have empty doll eyes.

  2. Its funny that you say look at this like the little brother to magic mike because that's the vibe the trailer gives me.