A capell-icans have Pitch Perfect. Show-choir lovers have Glee. And now hipster EDM enthusiasts have We Are Your Friends. From first-time feature film director Max Joseph comes this look at how the musical genre is more than just bobbing your head and pressing buttons on a soundboard. It’s art, people! However, much like both Pitch Perfect films and Glee circa season 3, the film doesn’t break much ground, but it’s harmless.
In its defense, it’s really difficult to make DJing look physically dramatic on camera, let alone emotional. But, damn it, Zac Efron tries his hardest. The film centers on Cole, and without Efron in the role, everything would fall apart. Cole is a young, aspiring DJ who is struggling to make money and move out of The Valley. All he wants to do is become a great DJ and, one day in the future, a record producer. He finally gets his chance when he meets a big-shot producer named James (Wes Bentley). After a night of drugs and alcohol, he takes Cole under his wing and helps him improve his DJing — even at the expense of Cole’s friends. To add more drama into the mix, Cole falls in love with James’ girlfriend, a 20-something named Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), and the two strike up an affair. It’s complicated, it’s messy, and it doesn’t end well. I’m just kidding. Of course it does. It’s a Zac Efron movie in which everything somehow works out for everyone.
We Are Your Friends is a movie where lots of millennial buzz words -- like “Apps,” “Blogs” and “Instagram” -- are thrown out timed to the driving bass line of a Skrillex track. (Or, I’m assuming it’s Skrillex.) It’s all too clear all too soon what kind of audience this film is looking to attract, and it drives the message home by featuring real-life DJs in the background and on set to teach Efron a few things, including Alesso and Them Jeans.
In this sense, the film is a love letter to the genre and its purveyors, but if it’s trying to make EDM and DJing look legitimate and creatively fulfilling, the effort comes across as empty. Chances are you know at least seven people who tote their mad spinning skills, and I blame those people for giving the genre a bad rap. But it also doesn’t help to elevate the craft when Cole keeps reiterating that all you need to be a DJ is “some talent,” a laptop and one track. So when I see this character awakening to the sounds around him and incorporating them into his music, I can’t help but roll my eyes, even if I don’t mean to.
Again, though, it’s mostly harmless. If you like EDM, you have all this music to listen to. If you don’t, you have this story layered over it. Although, it’s more like a daytime soap opera. You have the drama between Cole and his friends, you have the sexual tension between Cole and Sophie, you have the drama within Cole’s day job as a real estate scammer, and you have the drama between Cole and James when the latter finally discovers what’s been going on behind his back. There’s a confrontation in the bathroom of a strip club when James forcefully asks Cole if he slept with his girlfriend, to which Cole gives a shoulder shrug and mouth twitch that reads, “Meh.” And that’s just about as much of a reaction as I had from all of this business. There’s even a death at one point, and I still gave the same blasé response.
At the end of the day, you’re seeing this movie for Zac Efron. There’s something about this 27-year-old that makes audiences fall in love with him. Maybe it’s his chiseled physique, his stupidly handsome Ken doll face, his cutesy blue eyes, his charisma, or a combination of it all. If it wasn’t for his presence in the lead role, taking us through this movie, I’m not convinced there’d be that much appeal. The only moment when I finally had enough of watching him was at the end, after the story all somehow magically works out for everyone, and Cole is on stage DJing at a major music festival. He plays his track filled with the sounds of spinning quarters, wind chimes, and his buddy’s voice, and he’s rocking out as dramatically as he can. To that, I have to say, I am not your friend.