“All you need is a laptop, some talent and one track,” declares the hero of the Electronic Dance Music film ‘We Are Your Friends.” It sounds like a cool idea on paper. Tell a coming-of-age story of a twenty-something trying to make it big as a DJ in the LA club scene. The only problem is that Mia Hansen-Love’s passionate epic ‘Eden’ is a far superior film about the Parisian rave culture of the 90s. This is not to say that ‘We Are Your Friends’ is not brashly entertaining at times. Working with a script co-written by first-time director Max Joseph (known for a MTV reality show Catfish) and Meaghan Oppenheimer, the film has its moments in some creative scenes that try to take you into the creative mind of a DJ. Think of it as harmless end-of-summer escapism for the Millennial generation.
The film touches on a generation that has grown up in the digital age with smartphones and social media. What the film gets right is how difficult Millennials (people born after 1980) have it in an ever-increasing competitive world. It’s a generation that has had an overabundance of validation from their parents that convinced them they can achieve anything they want in life. For some, that route to success means bypassing college and possibly taking short cuts to wealth. The young male characters in ‘We Are Your Friends’ reside in the San Fernando Valley. The protagonist Cole Carter (Zac Efron) perfectly illustrates this in an opening narration that describes the Valley as the flat stretch of Los Angeles known for the porn industry, vapid blondes and the best sushi.
To make extra cash, Cole and his entourage Mason (Jonny Weston), Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez) and Squirrel (Alex Shaffer) promote a popular Hollywood rave called Social labeled “the best dance party in L.A.” to hot sorority girls at a local college. It’s at the club where Cole gets to spin some tracks and one fateful night meets a world famous DJ James Reed (Wes Bentley). One of the best scenes comes out of nowhere when James invites Cole to an art gallery party. After smoking a joint laced with PCP (yes, you heard that right), the paintings come alive in a surreal animated sequence reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s ‘Waking Life.’ There are other scenes from cinematographer Brett Pawlak that perfectly illustrate the contrasting worlds between the sun-kissed Valley and the affluent Hollywood Hills.
When James takes Cole under his wing, he invites him to spin music at his tony Brentwood estate. This is where a romantic love triangle develops between Cole and James’ sexy girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski). You just know that these two incredibly attractive people will hook up. There is another creative scene thrown in as Sophie begins to dance poolside as Cole ratchets up the beats. He explains how the beats of the music can gain control of the heartbeats on the dance floor. As he illuminates his theory to us, Sophie seductively dances in a very revealing outfit. Ratajkowski makes the most of her role that doesn’t challenge her to be more than gorgeous eye-candy. She is best known for her role in the ‘Blurred Lines’ video and a bit part in ‘Gone Girl.’ Later in the film, Cole attends the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas and rendezvous with Sophie in a beautifully shot sequence to pulsating music and the bright lights of Sin City.
With so many creative scenes where does the movie go wrong? The story bites off more than it can chew. To make extra cash, the boys take cold-calling jobs at a mortgage company. It jolts the tone of the story to a ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ vibe. The get-rich quick scam wears on Cole’s morals as he wants to follow his true calling as a world-class DJ. It’s a legitimate goal that gets a bit skewed as he tries to find that one song that will take him to the top of the DJ food chain. As he is jogging, he finds inspiration in mundane sounds like Sophie’s zippered jacket, his buddy Mason’s staple gun and Squirrel’s brooding question, “Can we do better than this?” Unfortunately, ‘We Are Your Friends’ is not the definitive movie about EDM but it has its entertaining moments. If you want to see a more fascinating look at the electronic music scene, definitely put ‘Eden’ on your radar. Check out the official trailer for ‘We Are Your Friends’ https://youtu.be/gZzAeYWXFpk.