Following a roided up, illicitly-medicated EDM die-hard’s attempt to break out of the sideroom DJ circuit and onto the main stage, We Are Your Friends is almost a bizarre masterpiece: a self-aware, bacchanalian takedown of the meathead aspirational class – until suddenly it’s not. Around two-thirds into its runtime the film takes a nosedive so steep that any entertainment derived from its first hour or so is completely sullied, and any chance that this had as an ironic, tongue-in-cheek midnight favourite is squandered. The issue isn’t in its objectively inaccurate exploration of DJing, or the fault of director Max Joseph (of Catfish: The TV Show fame) either; the troubles of the film’s final act result from script issues and studio notes, transforming what was a fun, ridiculous ride to the top into an absolutely steaming pile of moralistic, ‘American dream’-reinforcing garbage.
Named after Justice and Simian’s electro-house hit, We Are Your Friends centres on Cole (Zac Efron) and his friends Mason (Jonny Weston), Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), and Squirrel (Alex Shaffer) as they attempt to find fame and fortune in their hometown in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, which we’re told is a haven for “porn… ditzy girls [and] the best sushi in the Western Hemisphere, always found in strip malls”. This line sets the tone for the rest of the film; an ultra-glossy, ultra-dumb mainstream “bro-fest” with terrible gender politics,1 that showcases a rare non-cynical sense of self-awareness absent from most of these hype-trend cash-in films. Cole bonds with famous DJ James (Wes Bently) after a show, and thereafter James’ girlfriend Eve (Emily Ratajkowski) and the film’s focus shifts almost exclusively to Cole’s journey towards super-stardom – a welcome decision because Mason, Ollie, and (to a lesser extent) Squirrel are poorly conceived, paper-thin characters.
Of major note is the film’s absolute lack of care for the technical aspects of DJing, something it copped a lot of flack for upon the release of its first trailer. Even those with the most amateur understanding of mixing or producing should be able to pick apart the film’s inaccuracies – from clubs that pay set amounts to DJs based on how many people they bring through the door2 to mis-genreing, to the hilariously misguided description of ‘rocking the party’ provided in its infamous first trailer.3 That said, it’s pretty clear that Joseph and co. don’t give a fuck. We Are Your Friends is an EDM fever dream, a reflection of the arrogant, big-headed culture surrounding a genre saturated in pre-recorded festival mixes, ghost-writers, no-talent hacks and constant replication of breakout trends in the charts.4 If anything, the film’s glaring inaccuracies actually add to its entertainment value, never bogging itself down in reality as Cole chases what is, for all intents and purposes, a virtually unattainable dream.
This is a great role for Efron, a former Disney star who, between this and Bad Neighbours has come to embody all of the likeable aspects of “bro”-culture on and off-screen. He has also proved his acting chops in more arthouse fare like The Paperboy and from his standout performances in the dreadful High School Musical series. In a way, he is the perfect actor to tackle a character like Cole Carter, the likeable, unintelligent dude-bro who’s obsessed with talent in an area that hinges so heavily upon looks and hype (two aspects that he implicitly uses to his advantage throughout his journey).
Unfortunately, the film’s promise is swiftly undercut by the most miscalculated trainwreck of a final act since Rodrigo Cortez’s Red Lights, derailing Joseph’s impressive first feature-length directorial effort, which is (otherwise) a visually striking and well-constructed attempt to tackle vapid material that, in other hands, could have been as consistently vile as the world it attempts to capture. The third act is (presumably) marred by inane studio notes, ideas that are never fleshed out that should have been cut altogether rather than presented in gimped form, a bevy of aspirational cliches that undermine and undercut the film’s foreshadowed message.5 Even more jarring is that the film momentarily becomes an immersion-breaking drug PSA, something that’s too little, too late in a film that brazenly champions pervasive drug use.6 Finally, there’s the film’s conclusion, the unveiling of Cole’s “track”, which after 100 minutes of pumping Melbourne Bounce, Electro-House and Big Room EDM falls absolutely flat – lacking bass and mixed poorly, it’s a cringeworthy final hurrah.
We Are Your Friends is unfortunately a miscalculated endeavour; its lacklustre box office receipts, placing it in among the worst wide openings of all time is a testament to that. It was conceived by a man who clearly has his finger firmly off the pulse of youth culture and has drunk the EDM Kool-Aid, its marketing alienates a potential DJ audience with its utter disdain for craft and laughable inaccuracies, and its push for a female audience7 is likewise misguided due to the lacklustre representation of women in both the EDM community and this film. It’s a shame that Joseph will surely bear the brunt of the film’s failure as his direction is, at the end of the day, probably the only standout thing to take away from We Are Your Friends. In light of the film’s offensively terrible ending, though, We Are Your Friends isn’t even worth watching for a laugh.
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