Considering most Hollywood films about popular music tend to flop (think Village People’s Can’t Stop The Music, Mariah Carey’s Glitter and Biggie Smalls biopic Notorious), Max Joseph makes a bold move in his directorial debut with We Are Your Friends.
Working from his own screenplay, co-written with Meaghan Oppenheimer, We Are Your Friends tells the story of Cole Carter (Zac Efron), a struggling 23-year-old DJ who dreams of becoming a major record producer in the Los Angeles electronic dance music (EDM) scene. Veteran DJ James Cole (Wes Bentley) takes Cole under his wing and becomes his mentor but when Cole strikes up a romance with James’ girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), the young DJ must make the difficult decision between love, loyalty and the future he is destined for.
A film about EDM may not appeal to everyone’s taste but you can’t deny that the musical genre has become increasingly popular over the past five years, with acts likes like Skrillex, Deadmau5 and David Guetta dominating the charts. Joseph has described the film as a modern-day Saturday Night Fever and while the film is never going to match up to the cult classic, it does share some similarities.
Essentially, We Are Your Friends is a coming-of-age story about a kid who wants to make something of himself. It’s a movie about a guy becoming an adult to the backdrop of music. The film boasts some decent cast performances with former teen heartthrob Zac Efron playing aspiring DJ Cole Carter. Efron actually tones down his leading man presence for the role, which is refreshing and surprisingly effective. The role of the alpha male belongs to the charismatic, talented but damaged DJ James played by Wes Bentley. Emily Ratajkowski completes the trio as Sophie, who acts more of a catalyst than a character, ensuring that Cole and James’ friendship will soon turn sour with lust and betrayal.
There are plenty of flaws in We Are Your Friends. The storyline is a little predictable and Zac Efron pretty much spends the entire movie with a set of headphones around his neck. It is unlikely to earn raves from hardcore EDM fans, particularly at Cole’s early declaration that, to succeed as a DJ, “all you need is a laptop, some talent and one track.”
That said, the film isn’t all that bad. The soundtrack is pretty decent with tracks from acts such as Years & Years alongside Aluna George, Justice Vs Simian and Hook & Sling. Joseph also uses some interesting creative techniques to push the narrative along, merging animation with live action for a surreal ‘trippy’ scene, as well as voiceover narration and onscreen text.
Despite its limitations, We Are Your Friends is an entertaining, feel-good film. It may not appeal to everyone’s taste but its heart is certainly in the right place.
We Are Your Friends is released in the UK cinemas on 27 August and the US on 28 August
This review was originally written for ScreenRelish