As James Reed (Wes Bentley) proclaims to aspiring DJ Cole Carter (Zac Efron) early on in We Are Your Friends, “Imitation is suicide.” Even before the film reached its conclusion, I couldn’t help but find a good amount of self-reflexive irony in that statement. Virtually every moment of the hour and a half run time hits a plot point more overplayed than your average song on the top 40. Even as yet another film that’s a rags to riches success story, it fails to do anything inventive or worthwhile with its conceit. For a movie that uses E.D.M. as its focal point, it moves with the assured confidence of a scratched up vinyl record.
Cole is a struggling DJ who spends most nights with his loser friends hoping to score it big. By pure circumstance, Cole meets James Reed after Reed finishes a set at the club Cole and friends attend. Reed takes a liking to him and they begin to collaborate on that “one single track” to help Cole reach his aspirations. Things get complicated when Cole takes a liking to James’s assistant/girlfriend Sophia (Emily Ratajkowski). He can either chase his dreams, get the girl or abide by his friends. What is a young DJ to do?
At points, We Are Your Friends feels like a failed examination of the millennial generation. Cole and friends take jobs working for a morally shady real estate agent (Jon Bernthal) to make some money. There’s an aura of victimization surrounding Cole while he’s answering telephone calls about potential foreclosures and evictions. I got the sense director Max Joseph was attempting to show millennials as victims of a money driven society. Like so many other moments within the film, the delivery is overly earnest and not cynical enough to resonate. I still can’t believe this subplot was squeezed into a film with innumerable shots of bare breasted women and glorified drug use.
Cole’s rise to the top is as unoriginal and bland as could be. To his credit, Efron tries his best to provide some worthwhile investment on the part of the viewer. Sadly, no matter how sincere and genuine Cole appears, it’s undermined by the tired old moral of “be an original to succeed.” He and Bentley have chemistry together despite some of the dialogue being a little too melodramatic. Bentley is the true highlight of this film. James is a character that’s tough to get any sort of read on. Cole thinks that he’s taking safe paychecks instead of trying to reinvent his music. Bentley portrays a lot of internal emotion throughout the movie. He’s an alcoholic but he never lets rage or anger erupt from his drunken state. It’s almost as if he’s developed a self-loathing attitude due to his current condition.
I can’t offer the same amount of praise I gave Bentley to his co-star Emily Ratajkowski. She’s a very talented actress and her radiant personality shines through while she’s on-screen. Unfortunately, most of her scenes require her to be nothing more than a mere plot device or a piece of eye candy. Her role did not require an actress of her ability. Cole’s group of friends suffer from similarly predictable character traits such as his hot-headed best friend and geeky sidekick. Speaking of which, a certain character is only present in order to provide a tragic event to evoke a cheap manipulation of emotion.
The aforementioned moment I stated above demonstrates the biggest problem with We Are Your Friends. The movie cannot decide what it wants to be. As a coming of age film, it may not resonate with the proper audience due to the R rating. As a comedy, the humor is not played up enough to garner anything beyond a chuckle. As a music film, We Are Your Friends has flashes of success. One particular scene is animated with neon colors galore set to a backdrop of lively music. The voice-over narrations behind Cole’s musical sessions explaining EDM show that there’s a real art to working as a DJ. It’s all the more disheartening that when Cole does reach the big show, it feels like too little too late.