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A glorified EDM festival promo video with just barely enough flash and bass to keep the audience dancing.

 

Electronic Dance Music, or EDM, festivals are a special kind of parties that really have no rivals when it comes to a psychedelic blend of wild dancing and brotherly connection. When so many people are packed into one area collectively sharing an aural experience so vivid and sensory, it’s hard not to get lost within both yourself and the experience. With the genre of music and the festivals themselves becoming so mainstream recently, it’s hard to believe so few films exist beyond aren’t simple documentaries on the festivals themselves. However, we now have two fiction EDM narratives: France’s Eden last year and now We Are Your Friends this season.  The latter happens to have opened with one of the worst box office results in cinema history.

 

We Are Your Friends stars Zac Efron as Cole Carter, along with his friends Mason, Ollie, and Squirrel, who are imprisoned in a house in the San Fernando Valley doomed to a life of party promoting with the dream of making it out alive. Certainly an exaggeration, but everyone wants to make something of themselves, right? Cole wants to make it as a headlining DJ in the EDM scene, and frequently plays at the local club for a little money. That is, until he meets local EDM celebrity artist James Reed, played by Wes Bentley, and latches on with the goal to learn from the best. James is an egotistical drunken has-been with enough leftover talent to be impressionable to those beneath him. He lives alone in his giant house with his assistant Sophie, played by Emily Ratajkowski. Cole is a rookie with rookie knowledge and rookie talent, but James thinks he has hidden potential, so eventually the two strike up a professional relationship, with some bumps along the way.

 

First-time feature director Max Joseph, who might be recognized as a co-host on the hit TV show Catfish: the TV Show, must be a fan of EDM culture, because the overall feeling and atmosphere of the film is both authentic and palpable in all its flashy and overloaded sensory nature. Unfortunately, it shows that he has never fit everything that needs to be in a feature before. While We Are Your Friends certainly has the vivid colors and wild electricity of the culture, it suffers from a complete lack of inventiveness that begs to be brought out by such a picture. Like putting lipstick on a pig, you can only make a film so ostentatious and grandiose, but if you don’t include your own unique twist with the story, you aren’t doing anything different, which is absolutely the case here. Joseph incorporates almost a dizzying amount of flying After-Effects-like typeset to accentuate an idea Cole or his friends are thinking or declaring. At some point, it gets tiresome and the effect washes off. The film’s marketing shows plenty of examples illustrating this. There’s a trippy drug scene with pretty slick visual effects, but is completely unnecessary given the rest of the film’s content.

 

We-Are-Your-Friends-poster

 

But those are two minor offenders, especially when compared to the story structure itself. No risks are taken, no drama hasn’t become cliché at this point, plenty of lines will have you physically groaning over the loud music. By this point you’ve put two and two together and realized that both Zac Efron and Emily Ratajkowski are in this film, and two people so beautiful as them cannot seemingly be put into a film without some form of physical interaction (no spoilers here). I personally enjoy Efron’s acting.  I really do think he’s much better than he lets on, and with a film like last year’s Neighbors, he actually proves it. It’s disappointing that a pretty boy like him has to use some running time showing off his body, both in the shower and on top of the supporting lady, but We Are Your Friends is no exception (Neighbors might be, in hindsight).

 

While the stakes for our characters may be presented, none of it feels real. There are plenty of people who would kill for a life in the San Fernando Valley, but these kids view life there as a black hole, sucking away any chance anyone has for a happy life. At one point, all of them begin a real-estate job from local big-wig Paige, played by the always-great Jon Bernthal, and shortly after decide the corporate life isn’t a good fit for them. As somebody who works in the film industry, I definitely empathize with that, but Squirrel was right in his thinking that it just might be a more realistic option. Thinking deeper, We Are Your Friends can easily be compared to the recent Entourage film, wherein beautiful people with beautiful lives are ignorant to what real problems actually look like. Stakes are small but tensions are high. There’s nothing wrong with having a dream and sticking with it, but these characters very much seem to have a very thin grasp on reality and what it can, and does, do to people. Overall, We are Your Friends as a whole does very little steer the audience away from the vast glorification of life in California for beautiful young men with unrealistic aspirations.

 

But here’s a plot twist: I happen to be a sucker for that kind of thing. I personally adore Entourage, both the TV show and the recent film, which, on the surface, is beautiful people living the perfect life with the kind of minor problems real people would kill to have. I love The Wolf of Wall Street, which on the surface, is essentially three hours of awful people doing awful things. I love films that show me a life I can’t realistically have, and I also happen to really love EDM, so a film like We Are Your Friends has me biased as a critic. I recognize the faults but can’t help but be swept up in the electricity of it all. Like I said, the authenticity of EDM culture and its fans is real, and James Reed gives some amazing tips and knowledge to Cole in his studio. The way Max Joseph uses sound design to immerse the audience in the music Cole creates from scratch in the world around him is beautiful to watch, and certainly is among the more memorable parts. It’s just disappointing that, even when some completely unnecessary darker drama is introduced near the end, the rest of the film remains so forgettable by the time the lights in the theater turn back on. EDM culture is a movement that only grows and grows over time, so it’s absolutely a welcome sight to see it put on screen so well. But the filmmaking itself feels too dissatisfying to praise so highly. I really have no explanation for the box office results for this film. While the filmmaking lacks an identity, the transfixing nature of the subject makes it hard to discourage a viewing.

 

Distributed By: Warner Bros.Entertainment

Directed By: Max Joseph

Screenplay By: Max Joseph, Meaghan Oppenheimer

Starring: Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer, Jonny Weston, Wes Bentley

Run Time: 96 minutes

Release Date: August 28, 2015

 

About The Author

Steve Carley

Steve Carley is a Michigan-born lover and resident of the film industry in Atlanta, Georgia. When he's not infiltrating the nearest Waffle House or giving up on the most recent movie-adapted book he can be seen lounging in his apartment complex's pool and regretting the way he wrote his Film Takeout bio.