EDM. Those three letters bring life to the beating heart and soul of the millennial musical soul. With DJs selling out gigantic venues around the world, these spinners of electronic beats are today’s rock gods. With that being said, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood tried to cash in on some of the genre’s success. Enter first time feature film director Max Joseph and his debut picture, “We Are Your Friends.”
Starring Zac Efron (Neighbors) as a San Fernando Valley punk with Vegas-Club-God dreams, the film plays fast and loose with the term “story” and instead focuses on inundating the audience with techno-centric beats. Fans of that sort of thing will get a kick out of the killer soundtrack, but anyone coming into the film hoping for a legitimate story should look elsewhere this weekend.
Taking place in the epicenter of the West Coast Rave scene — Hollywood — "We Are Your Friends" follows an aspiring DJ named Cole (Efron) and his quest to make one single track that will catapult him and his friends to stardom. When Cole isn’t hunched over his worn-out laptop mixing music, he’s goofing off with his fellow delinquent cronies Mason (Jonny Weston), Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), and Squirrel (Alex Shaffer). All four dream of fame and fortune. Unfortunately, with no job, no college degree, and no realistic goals, these San Fernando Valley denizens are stuck on the outside looking in.
Everything changes after Cole confronts the charismatic but completely out-of-his-mind James (Wes Bentley), an already established DJ that has traveled the world and is currently living the same good life Cole so desperately desires. After a hilarious scene involving an after-party and lots and lots of PCP, James decides to take Cole under his wing. From there, things start getting complicated, especially after Cole meets James’ incredibly attractive assistant Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski).
The aforementioned is “We Are Your Friends” in a nutshell. And if director/screenwriter Max Joseph, along with his writing partner Meaghan Oppenheimer (LoveFinder), stuck to following that storyline, the movie could have benefited immensely. Sadly, what ends up on screen diverges into a million other directions over the course of the film’s hour and forty-minute running time. Making matters worse, all of these crazy side-plots are never connected or resolved. Instead they are left hanging in cinematic limbo.
As for the acting, there are a couple of familiar faces in the crowd, Efron mainly, but also Jon Bernthal (TV’s The Walking Dead). This time he's playing a slimy real estate exec. For the most part, however, the cast is comprised of fairly fresh faces. Jonny Weston — who also showed promise in last year’s underrated “Project Almanac” — brings an angsty energy as the hotheaded captain of the group. Shiloh Fernandez as Ollie and Alex Shaffer’s Squirrel both deserve some kudos as well for bringing life to their rather one-dimensional supporting characters.
The most intriguing newcomer though is Emily Ratajkowski of Robin Thicke’s "Blurred Lines" music video acclaim. She doesn’t bring anything particularly extraordinary to her Sophie character, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t be able to shine if given the right material. This is by far her biggest role — her only other credit of note coming in last year’s “Gone Girl” playing Ben Affleck’s mistress — but despite the added screen time, she still doesn’t seem to do more than speak a few lines before dancing and prancing around as if she were filming another music video. Maybe it’s time she broadens her horizons to something a little more challenging.
There are definitely some redeeming qualities. The music is top notch with deep tracks and crowd pleasers from the likes of Diplo, Bro Safari, and Juicy J. The large majority of the acting is good too. Even Efron delivers some solid stuff! But the story is so convoluted and lackluster that it drags the rest of the film down.
In the end, “We Are Your Friends” would have been better served as a long-form music video. With a story that ranges from dealing with the California Housing crisis, to today’s music scene, to the trials and tribulations one faces when chasing his or her lofty dreams, filmmaker Max Joseph ultimately loses control of his film.
There’s a good DJ blockbuster film out there, but “We Are Your Friends” ain’t it.
By David Morris
Rated R for language throughout, drug use, sexual content and some nudity