We Are Your Friends
2015, R, 96 min. Directed by Max Joseph. Starring Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer, Jon Bernthal.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Aug. 28, 2015
“Don’t bro me if you don’t know me,” a character warns a stranger in the vacuous drama We Are Your Friends, a Saturday Night Fever wannabe about a foursome of millennials struggling in the San Fernando Valley, dreaming the City of Angels dream but going nowhere fast in dead-end jobs and the occasional drug-dealing side business. Front and center in this quartet of twentysomething pretty boys is (of course) the best-looking of the bunch, Cole (Efron), an ambitious dude trying to break into the club music business. He aspires to become the next Skrillex or Calvin Harris, a master DJ presiding over the L.A. nightlife like a rockstar. When an older, mainstreamed MC with a drinking problem (Bentley, making the best of a crappy role) inexplicably decides to mentor Cole, things start to happen, but not always in a good way. Soon, ho’s come before bros (among other things) and a sadder-but-wiser Cole must navigate a familiar narrative arc to find self-realization and redemption at the end of that rainbow, like so many other lost young men (including Tony Manero) in the movies before him.
Despite its questionable title (to whom are the “we” and “your” referring?), the film isn’t very approachable. It keeps its distance in the emotional depiction of its relationships, particularly the friendships among the Valley Boy quartet. The bonds between these guys seem more circumstantial than actual, the byproduct of the need for a roof over one’s head or an all-night roll on a tab of Ecstasy. And despite its dance-club milieu, the film is doggedly heterocentric with hardly a gay in sight, going so far as to include a throwaway homophobic jab uttered by a suddenly hyper-masculine Cole. (He’s defending a woman’s honor, which apparently makes the otherwise gratuitous statement OK.) But the film’s greatest (and most laughable) failing is Cole’s artistic epiphany, as demonstrated during a prestigious gig at a big outdoor music festival. Following his guru’s advice to find the organic in the electronic, Cole unleashes a mix that samples both the utterly mundane (a spinning coin on a tabletop, the pneumatic coursing of a nail gun securing shingles) and the extremely personal (a voice mail from his pouty-mouthed love interest, a conversation with a now-decreased bro). Predictably, the crowd becomes ecstatic upon hearing it (seemingly without the need for MDMA) and Cole is on his way to superstardom, simply because he has learned to listen to the sounds of his own existence. It’s the meaning of life for the Shazam generation, distilled on a laptop hard drive, pulsating at 128 beats per minute.