“Are we ever gonna be better than this?”
Friends. How many of us have them? In San Fernando, hustler Mason (Jonny Weston), club promoter Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), chauffeur Squirrel (Alex Shaffer), and aspiring EDM DJ Cole (Zac Efron) are four cash-strapped buddies working together who are attempting to make it out of the valley and into better lives. All it takes is one big break.
That big break comes for Cole by way of a random encounter with James (Wes Bentley), an older DJ who knows the ins and outs of the music business. Quickly, the two take a liking to each other and the elder serves as a mentor for young Cole. More time spent around James exposes Cole to James’ assistant/girlfriend, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), who both take a liking to one another also. Things may be looking to snap into place for Cole, but it is a balancing act between placating the people he grew up with and the people he needs to get to the next level.
Unlike the recent Straight Outta Compton, where non-rap and non-N.W.A fans can still get a lot out of, if not more than (because they’re not nitpicking for what is not there—like yours truly), rap fans, the enjoyment of We Are Your Friends may simply come down to how much one enjoys electronic dance music. That may be a bold assumption, or an weak and obvious assumption depending on how you look at it, but the reality is there is a fair amount of EDM in this feature, and not a ton of much else that hasn’t already been bettered before.
WAYF is well-produced, fun to listen to, and occasionally watch. Directed by Max Joseph of Catfish fame, all of the good scenes are ones that bring the electronic music to the forefront. This does happen quite a bit, and one particular super sappy scene in the middle gets drawn out, but fans of the genre are going to love most, if not all, of the music that accompanies them, particularly the end. I can already see a few tracks from here making their way on to my phone. With that said, these scenes do feel more like music videos snippets that belong on the jumbotron of the Ultra Music Festival or something, as opposed to a part of a movie if that makes sense.
Unfortunately, it is the rest of the movie that, to steal from YouTuber Jeremy Jahns, you’re not gonna remember in T-minus whatever days. Is the script, penned by Joseph and others, awful? No, it isn’t, but it is nothing more than a generic coming-of-age story once the EDM element is stripped away. And even “generic” is more of a compliment than the WAYF script deserves, because at least some of those tens and thousands of movies about finding yourself have entertaining characters to support the well-worn narrative.
The film doesn’t exactly makes Cole’s cast of friends interesting, people to get behind, or even give reasons as to why they are all friends. One is just supposed to believe it to be so because there is a brief voice-over monologue that says so. In yours truly eyes, it is a very easy choice when tension is teased in regards to what way Cole should go, especially when the friends themselves go MIA for a large portion of the runtime. Even Cole himself is kind of bland; for a brief second he implies why he has lived with one of his buds since 15, but it is very vague and the film never comes back to giving more to his character, and why he needs this.
As a result, his journey, already a cookie cutter one, never feels like he truly overcomes anything. Where the crew lives doesn’t seem that bad. There is a subplot about home foreclosure that feels odd from the inclusion point, and it is clear that it’s only in there to provide a feel-good moment down the line. Everything else touches upon similar beats found in the genre, from characters, to tragedy, to eventual victory. As such, most of the cast, especially Efron, appear to be on cruise control with the work turned in. There is little to explore in any of their roles.
Character-wise, and by extension performance-wise, the biggest pluses go to Emily Ratajkowski (surprisingly), and Wes Bentley (unsurprisingly). The former is nothing to get excited about, and her chemistry with Efron is lacking, but she’s tolerable. The latter easily has the best character. Kind of a has-been, both a villain and a hero, but clearly knowledgeable and someone who can impart so much wisdom to anyone he chooses to. Though Cole is the lead and it is his story, the more intriguing story is James’.
EDM beats are comprised of a bunch of layers. But when those layers are stripped away, there is one important core to which the rest of the sounds meld around to make something electric to move to. For We Are Your Friends, the EDM is a good layer. But the core that exists of it makes for a stiff
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