Close your eyes and think back to all of the various stages of your life, and I can almost guarantee you that each one is segmented into the type of music you were listening to, whether it was a specific band, genre, song, or what have you. Needless to say, music plays an important role in all of our lives. Recently, we’ve seen EDM gravitate towards the top of mainstream music genres with EDM DJs headlining all types of festivals across the country. Adversely, the genre’s popularity also attracts unwanted notoriety as the scene’s culture is linked to partying and drugs, especially in regards to EDM’s mainstream media coverage.
With that said, what better way is there to tell a contemporary coming-of-age film set within the EDM scene? Writer/director Max Joseph’s We Are Your Friends tells the story of an aspiring DJ’s attempts to make it big with his friends, but his rise is constantly threatened by personal events. Unfortunately, the film derails way too often, leaving audiences a messy film struggling with its identity.
We Are Your Friends
Director: Max Joseph
Release Date: August 28, 2015
Cole (Zac Efron) is an aspiring DJ living in the San Fernando Valley with his best friends Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), Squirrel (Alex Shaffer), and Dustin (Jonny Weston). Together, they all dream of leaving the Valley for the riches and lights that Los Angeles has to offer, and they do so by promoting at a local club where Cole DJs.
Thanks to a chance encounter, Cole begins a mentorship with an established DJ, James (Wes Bentley), who helps Cole with his mix and offers him a gig at a large music festival. However, as life is wont to do, various circumstances are thrown at Cole and his friends, whether it’s a dead-end job or the sexual tension between him and James’s girlfriend, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski).
There are so many elements at play in We Are Your Friends, but that’s not a good thing… definitely not one for this film. Had it stuck to one genre, this film would have been far better. However, Joseph shows his ambition by attempting to create a film with a legitimately compelling story beyond the standard we’ve come to expect from similar music films. And for this, I applaud him; it’s just unfortunate that his ambition ultimately led to the film’s downfall.
There are many subplots going on within We Are Your Friends that help move the film along, but they all lack the payoff in the end. Take, for instance, Cole’s three friends – the relationship between the four of them is that of ride or die brothers who would all have each other’s backs. However, when Cole begins his friendship with James and Sophie, he essentially turns his back on them, as illustrated in a party scene where the trio embarrass themselves at James’s party with no support from Cole whatsoever. Leading up to the film’s final act, the friends are all eventually phased out to increase the spotlight on Cole’s relationship with James and Sophie. There’s a bit of a twist or a surprise that leads into the third act, but the immediate fallout from it is so tone-deaf and unrealistic.
However, this in itself is so unbelievably realistic and fairy tale-like. I can get behind Cole’s sudden rise in the way fictional films tend to work out. What I can’t get behind is the love triangle between Cole, Sophie, and James. Spoiler alert: Sex and fights are involved. I can’t get too into this point without actually spoiling the film, yet the film’s ultimate failure is rooted in Cole’s narrative and how absurd it is.
Simply put: You can’t attempt to create a drama that, through no believable elements whatsoever, allows the protagonist to come out on top unaffected and unchanged.
As far as the performances go, I’ve become a bit of an Efron fan in recent years, and he has his moments in the film. Unfortunately, his range is held back by the film’s script and direction. Nevertheless, he makes the most of what’s given to him. Wes Bentley also holds his own, but much like Efron’s situation, he’s held back from truly showing off what he can do. Ratajkowski’s role as Sophie, however, is cause for concern.
Joseph attempts to create a truly-realized character with emotions and thoughts and dimensions beyond the obvious, and it truly is admirable. However, she’s sorely underwritten and underutilized despite Joseph’s attempts. For a film like We Are Your Friends, an attractive female lead is basically needed for the male protagonist to woo and romance on his path to the top, yet I truly believe building on the dynamics of Cole and James’s multifaceted relationship would have been a better decision.
There are glimmers of light here and there in We Are Your Friends, whether it’s Joseph’s ambitions or Efron and Bentley’s performances. However, they’re too few and far between to justify seeing the film in theaters.