We Are Your Friends
We Are Your Friends looks to cover new ground in exploring the electronic music scene and the DJs at the heart of it. The film attracted a very mixed reception upon its release last year, with some denouncing its simplistic portrayal of the US's current rave scene while others praised Zac Efron in his portrayal of aspiring DJ Cole Carter. However, the film subsequently bombed at the box office, taking a pitiful $11 million in total. Was this simply due to the ambitious and unique subject matter that audiences weren't used to or the film simply being a failure?
Few films have explored the modern American electronic music scene and the increasingly ludicrous world of DJing so We Are Your Friends had plenty of potential and original ideas to explore. However, what we get instead is a tired, cliched coming of age story as Cole and his friends dream of escaping the San Fernando Valley and moving to L.A. Cue an abundance of party scenes, horribly forced banter and even a generic boy meets girl scene in a club that resembles a cheesy mid 90s music video. It is ironic for a film so greatly intent on delivering a message about originality, with Cole's mentor James Reed (Wes Bentley) explaining that "imitation is suicide", that there isn't one original idea throughout the whole film.
It is very rare for a film to contain not one character of interest but We Are Your Friends is an exception, focusing on a group of braindead, charismaless friends whose obsession with money seems to have prevented them from adopting even a resemblance of a personality. Character traits are non-existent, making it near impossible to delineate between the four. As a result, the film makes clear Cole's obsession with music production by simply placing a pair of headphones around his neck in every scene; one of the laziest ways of establishing a character to date. Efron puts in an average-at-best performance in a clearly undemanding role in which he largely fails to make music production look anymore exciting than it is.
Director Max Joseph (best known for his production role in the Catfish TV series) never successfully conveys the energy of the electronic music scene onto the screen, resorting to an overuse of shot- reverse shot sequences that just serve to highlight the simplistic, melodramatic script (lines such as "Are we ever going to be better than this?" are frequent) and paper thin characters. The frequently-used frenetic pop culture montages have been implemented so much better in other films and do nothing here but to highlight how much padding is needed to force the flimsy premise into a feature length film.
We Are Your Friends is also incredibly dismissive of the electronic culture, with Efron explaining early on that all you need to be a DJ is "some talent and one track." Such a message is at odds with the film's attempts to ingratiate itself with the EDM scene, creating a confusing blend of belittlement and empathy. The film eventually builds up to Cole's creation of this "one track", in which he uses voicemails and recordings from the rest of the film to create an "original" sound. However the track is generic and tired, devolving into a dumbed down melody and unambitious beat that brings nothing new to the table, much like the rest of the film.
We Are Your Friends takes a current, increasingly popular subject matter and turns it into a formulaic zero to hero story with little of the hero. One dimensional characters are paired with a cliche ridden script and flat cinematography, resulting in a tiresome and increasingly boring watch. Perhaps the biggest flaw of Joseph's film is that there is hardly any sense of progression. Cole and his friends go from privileged, self obsessed, well off characters to privileged, self obsessed, well off characters. How riveting.