EDM: Electronic Dance Music. It’s reserved almost exclusively for the eternally twenty-something, club-going, spring breakin’ Ibiza partiers of the world. Director Max Joseph’s WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS is a pulsating love letter to the power of this music, as well as a drama about male camaraderie and a commentary on the housing crisis, of all things. The film (which I’ve been affectionately calling ZAC EFRON’S NST NST NST NST) drops honest, heartfelt sentiment in between the electrifying beats, but loses its identity in a fuzzy mess of clichéd predictability.
DJ Cole Carter (Efron) is on a search to create just one perfect track. That’s all he needs to touch millions of hearts and get bodies gyrating on the dance floor. However, his epic quest for fame and fortune has stagnated. He’s living in the pool house of his best friend Mason’s (Jonny Weston) parents, sleeping the days away, promoting clubs and partying hard all night. That’s when struggling actor/ drug dealer/ bestie Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez) has an idea! They should all get desk jobs with successful local real estate tycoon Paige (Jon Bernthal), a sort of “Wolf of Van Nuys Blvd,” who unsurprisingly scams desperate people out of their foreclosed homes. While Cole proves adept at cold calling, it’s a promising Summerfest gig with musical mentor James Reed (Wes Bentley) that stokes his creative fire – that is if he doesn’t blow it by hooking up with Reed’s smokin’ hot assistant/ girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski).
Joseph infuses his picture from the start with a radiant and likeable energy. The world-building envelops us; before we’re out of the opening credits, we see the crew’s daily hustle – locking down stage time at the club and promoting the gig at a school, which leads to a line out the door to get into the club. Everyone over the age of thirty will appreciate the explanation of the Beats Per Minute scale DJs use to get the party started. The Valley has never looked so vivacious and full of possibility thanks to Brett Pawlek’s breathtaking cinematography. From Terel Gibson’s quick cuts, to the text that appears as emphasis, to the animation and graphics; there’s a hyper-stylization that hooks viewers, making their pulses rise to the approved 128 BPM. Music selections by soundtrack supervisor extraordinaire Randall Poster get us to that place of heady bliss, working with the eye candy on display.
Sadly though, when the gang goes to Vegas, the auteur’s beat becomes blasé. The plot is mundane at best and devoid of an interesting conflict. From moment one, the film insists that you like these characters when we barely know anything about them. Even during the course of the film, we hardly learn anything about them beyond the superficial. All we know about Turtle Squirrel (Alex Shaffer) is that he drives his mom’s station wagon and he’s Jewish. The male gaze is represented in an overbearing fashion; Not only are there a bevy of unnecessarily topless babes at a pool party, the camera ogles Ratajkowski on more than a few occasions. We get it! She’s hot! Now can we move on?! The way James inevitably finds out about Cole and Sophie is POLICE ACADEMY shenanigans. Plus, I defy you not to think of FRIENDS’ Ross and his music when you hear Cole’s musical magnum opus during the finale.
Though this isn’t a terrible film, what with the artistry and well-intentioned philosophy on display, it unfortunately winds up being as ephemeral as a night out at the club.
WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS opens on August 28.