We Are Your Friends

(2015) * R
96 min. Warner Bros. Pictures. Director: Max Joseph. Cast: Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Shiloh Fernandez, Jonny Weston, Alex Shaffer, Jon Bernthal.

/content/films/4830/1.jpgEminem once rapped, in the myth-making rap-battle drama 8 Mile, “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow.” Now, in the EDM-themed drama We Are Your Friends, Zac Efron tells us that for DJ success, “all you need is a laptop, some talent, and one track.” Well, in showing us its one-track mind, We Are Your Friends does not miss its chance to blow. It blows, alright. Hard.

Efron plays aspiring DJ Cole Carter, the slightly brightest center of what feels a lot like “Entourage, Jr.” Along with aspiring actor/drug dealer Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), “entrepeneur” Mason (Jonny Weston) and the group’s “Ringo,” Squirrel (Alex Shaffer), 23-year-old Cole dreams of making it big and permanently crossing over the Hollywood hills from the San Fernando Valley to the place that makes dreams come true. Cole feels a mixture of envy and contempt for world-renowned DJ James Reed (Wes Bentley), but when the older man deigns to take the younger one under his wing, Cole sees an opportunity for upward mobility.

Minutes before meeting Reed at a trendy nightclub, Cole flirts with Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski, a good blandly sexy match for the blandly sexy Efron), who turns out to be (whoops), Reed’s girlfriend/personal assistant. Three guesses where this is going. While milking Reed for artistic advice, Cole resumes his flirtation with Sophie, and before you know it, Cole and Sophie are holding hands and running all around Vegas, in a music-video-y montage that resolves in a hotel-suite love scene.

The montage emblematizes director/co-writer Max Joseph’s consistent tendency for visual cliches: every scene looks and feels like an advertisement, complete with giant block type periodically filling the screen to close-caption narration or dialogue. One laughable exception to the glossy look: the dispiriting scenes set in a real-estate boiler room, where the boys' boss (Jon Bernthal) wields a baseball bat while explaining the total legitimacy of his clearly sketchy business of predatory loan reconfiguration. 

We Are Your Friends pretends to have an insider’s view of the EDM DJ world (most notably in a scene that explains how to set it off, yo, by syncing and stepping up your mad beats to the crowd’s heartbeats-per-minute). But this is every bit a screenwriter’s idea of what it takes to make it to the “Summerfest” stage, while accidentally cultivating the pervading sense that real DJs would laugh their asses off at this movie and its endless dopey brodowns.

As stamped out by Euro-financiers that usually know better (Working Title and StudioCanal) and distributed by Warner Brothers, We Are Your Friends constitutes another naked attempt to commodify youth culture via the big screen. At one point Cole scoffs of Reed, “He used to be good. Now he just gives the people what they want.” But big-upping artistic authenticity is a joke in a movie that’s desperately trying to give the people what they want: sexy people writhing to music, then getting serious about music, until a star is born in an unlikely but familiar rise-and-fall-and-rise ascension.

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