Max Jospeh’s directorial debut We Are Your Friends unfortunately never becomes the cinematic rave nor the Los Angeles valley over-indulgence drama it aspires to be. There are a few inspired moments in this DJ-centric American Dream tale, but beyond the mentor-protege element it never manages to find a convincing angle to escort a viewer into the lifestyle of a struggling DJ, and the accompanying Hollywood electronic dance music and nightlife scene. It feels a lot like an Entourage-meets-The Wolf of Wall Street poser, using a leery camera to frequently capture the oft-exposed skin of the attractive Valley youths, and indulging in the unethical swindling and debauchery of the rather unlikable lead dudebros. Even when it has its heart in the right place – emphasising that people need to unplug and take in what the world is telling us (and use it as artistic inspiration, if you so desire) – without the euphoric electro soundtrack it would have been completely ineffective.
We Are Your Friends, co-written by Joseph and Meaghan Oppenheimer from a story by Richard Silverman, focuses on 23-year-old aspiring DJ and record producer Cole Carter (Zac Efron). He and his three irresponsible buddies (played by Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer and Johnny Weston) fund their wild partying by drug peddling and promoting at the club where Cole spins. When he meets an older DJ, James (Wes Bentley), and his girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), he finds a mentor who can help him hone his tracks, and falls for the girl. This off-limits relationship with Sophie leads to trouble, and Cole is forced to make some tough choices about his future and where his allegiances lie.
The central conflict in this film is amongst the core group, who seem set to combust. Cole is scoring steady gigs through James, and begins to recognise the immorality of the jobs they land through an acquaintance – home foreclosure cold callers ripping off the vulnerable – and wants out. His buddies, who can’t see the same success in their future and can’t get enough of the cash they are earning, want to continue. Weston’s Mason, in particular, is a despicable human being and is involved in a large percentage of the instances where this film is horrifically sexist. He’s almost always in pursuit of sex, or recapping one of his sexploits. The way the four talk to one another bears resemblance to Entourage but where that show had Hollywood to satirise, and some wit, there is little to soften these cringe-worthy bombs. We are witnessing these guys at an age where they are unwilling to give up on their dreams at any cost, and will do anything unsavoury or illegal to achieve it. It doesn’t make for particularly enjoyable viewing.
But, Cole comes through all this as a not-altogether terrible person. He’s a soft-soul at heart, seeking for a way to express himself. He is heavily influenced by lifelong bestie Mason – and finds it hard to say no to him. But, he is hoping that his friends are not going to get in the way of his opportunities. Efron is a charismatic performer with more range than many give him credit for. He’s completely suited to this character and convincing as a DJ. Ratajkowki is also fine, but is given little to work with outside of being eye candy. The most impressive performance is from Bentley, whom many will remember from American Beauty back in 1999. He’s a big-shot snob whose concerning alcoholism masks his loss of musical identity. He doesn’t seem to have created anything original in years, now spinning for the money and giving the ravers what they want. When Cole comes along with ideas and youthful enthusiasm, James sees it as a chance to create once again.
The film’s electronic soundtrack is certainly one of its strongest elements and where the film utilises it best is through the multiple montages. The most notable is when Cole attends a party with James and his drug trip involves the guests slowly becoming animated. It is a really clever way of putting a viewer in the head space of a drug-influenced rave. There are also some inventive techniques – on-screen text, and narration from Efron – used to explain how a DJ works their club, and how to hit the beats as close to the human heart rate. The film’s showstopping finale displays the most impressive editing work, while the cinematography is unfortunately largely dull. Joseph and his DP Brett Pawlak have also obviously seen Spring Breakers, but bring none of that energy to the club sequences here.
But, Joseph knows who his target market is, and with this impressive soundtrack and the sex-appeal of the stars, there will be an audience. It is a pity that it doesn’t have a clear objective and badly handles everything unrelated to the mentor-protege arc and the DJ mechanics. Mia Hansen-Love’s Eden is the superior DJ-insider film for anyone interested in exploring this world further.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: Max Joseph
Writer(s): Max Joseph and Meaghan Oppenheimer (Screenplay), Richard Silverman (Story)
Starring: Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski
Runtime: 96 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: August 27, 2015