“We Are Your Friends” marks Max Joseph’s feature length directorial debut and it manages to elicit some sense of feeling, confronting the harsh realities of life. Following the journey of four young, twenty-something friends living in the San Fernando Valley trying to make something of themselves, the film reads deeply into the trials and tribulations of the real world. Focusing on the electronic dance music scene (EDM), we see aspiring DJ Cole Carter (Zac Efron) working to create the right mix to become the next big thing. While highly focused on music, the film tends to forget about the meat and substance of what drives a plot forward, though it does still manage to elicit feeling by using the aforementioned EDM tracks throughout to coincide with the actual message and purpose of what is trying to be portrayed.
As an up and coming DJ, Cole is taken under the wing of a well-established DJ named James Reed (Wes Bentley). Reed is a bit arrogant, yet a master at what he does, but seemingly bored with having already reached his peak. He’s able to obtain whatever he wants, including any girl he sees fit. Among those is Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), who Cole gains an increasing interest in, creating tension amongst mentor and learner. Cole must figure out how to traverse the EDM scene while creating something new and different to set himself apart from others, while also trying to deal with the love triangle he finds himself in.
There are several things the film touches upon, and the main one is the EDM scene. It’s a true reality to today’s society, where festivals and raves are increasing in attendants. What “We Are Your Friends” does well is showcase the beauties of these scenes while also giving light to the darker aspects of them. On the plus side, the music works and really elicits feeling and emotion. There’s a scene in the film that manages to scientifically explain (whether it can be taken as fact or not, who knows) how the body reacts to music, and how EDM is the key genre that syncs up with someone’s body the best. The scene is engaging and enjoyable, and when you actually feel exactly what is being explained, it all clicks. On the other hand, the film’s focus on the ease of access to drugs and alcohol and their heightened influence during these festivals, raves and parties, sheds a light on the dangers that very much exist within this world. While a bit of a glaringly obvious moral message, the drug and alcohol use has its defining moment that is still very much true to life.
“We Are Your Friends” is also very largely about finding yourself. While not a teen-to-adult experience, it’s an out-of-college adult experience that reads well to the main demographic the film is geared towards. It focuses on finding yourself, and Cole and his group of friends really seem lost and thirsty for success in the world. The only downfall is they aren’t given enough meat to be relatable or endearing, fitting generic archetypes that appear to just go through the motions. Mason (Jonny Weston) is the crass, obnoxious guy that has no redeeming qualities who is hungry to make as much money as possible being a club promoter. Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez) is an aspiring actor with dreams to be a star, settling for the life of a drug dealer instead. And Squirrel (Alex Shaffer) is the quiet, withdrawn guy who has the most sense, yet sticks with this lot of friends simply because…it’s a movie. Cole’s interaction with these friends isn’t inspiring, and the only moment which actually desperately tries to pull some sort of feeling happens with the accompaniment of the film’s music, thus taking away from what needs to desperately be there: substance in character. And the love triangle between Cole, James and Sophie lacks everything; it’s just too generic and has no stakes in the overall scheme of what the film is about.
Overall, “We Are Your Friends” is a great directorial debut for Max Joseph, filmed in an engaging way and using the film’s main device of music to really drive home just how important the music actually is. What we get in the end is somewhat of a cardboard cutout message of following your dreams in order to truly find yourself which is spliced nicely with the EDM theme. The truth of this scene is sprawled out wonderfully for us, but the sad part is the lack of soul and character, the meat and substance, of who we’re going on this journey with. Music has the power to consume us, control us and make us feel certain things. “We Are Your Friends” proves that that music matters and is a much better friend than the hollow group of caricatures we’re meant to care for.
Final grade? B-