With the proliferation and international appeal of electronic music it is hard to explain why such a fresh and ripe new movement hasn’t garnished more attention from the film industry. The first feature film directed by Max Joseph(Catfish: The TV Show), We Are Your Friends attempts to shine the cinematic light on this relatively new and emerging genre of music. Following the story of a young up-and-coming DJ, Cole Carter(Zac Efron), We Are Your Friends brings the audience into the club, and the heart of club music. Quickly taken under the wing of veteran DJ James Reed(Wes Bentley), Cole begins to find his own style and works his way into the main stream circuit. Utilizing a wonderful soundtrack, a few scenes of drug-induced surrealism, a great performance from Wes Bentley, and the age old tale of self-discovery We Are Your Friends sounds like a great way to spend a Friday night, but somehow fails to find its beat.
The primary focus of the film is Cole Carter(Zac Efron), a struggling DJ living with his friends in the San Fernando Valley. Cole spends the majority of his time trying to master his own distinct sound, chasing that “one track” that will propel him to stardom. With the help of his friends he does promotional work and DJ’s for a club in Los Angeles without much success. It’s worth mentioning at this point that Cole and his friends also sell drugs to supplement their income. In the very same club spins a former DJ superstar, James Reed(Wes Bentley). Cole meets a girl, Sophie(Emily Ratajkowski), during one of James’ performances. Cole mentions that James used to be good, but has since sold out and become a shadow of his former self. During a chance encounter Cole meets James in the back alley of the club and the two share a joint. James nonchalantly invites Cole to a party and make an escape to a local art gallery. Cole begins to hallucinate after James tells him the weed was laced with PCP. After a Waking Life style rotoscoped drug sequence Cole wakes on James’ couch and is greeted by none other than Sophie, who happens to be James’ main squeeze. James takes an interest in Cole and begins grooming him to produce quality music. Torn between his passion and a soul crushing job, Cole battles with what to do with his life. The movie goes on predictably from there, with one unexpected twist that doesn’t really have the impact it was aiming for.
Stylistically this movie makes a lot of strange choices, and there are too many decisions that are never revisited. There are some great moments that utilize infographs, cartoons, and anatomy charts that could have made an interesting motif throughout the film and given insight into Cole’s creative process, but they are visited so sparingly that when the moments do arise they feel disjointed from the rest of the film. In addition, for a movie revolving around music the plot interjects itself far to often during moments when the music is at it’s peek. Just as the bass was blasting the movie would slam on the breaks, stop the music, and inject unnecessary drama. Too often was the ambiance cheapened or completely dispelled by some seemingly sophomoric conflict. It is such a shame too, because what is happening musically in this movie should have been front and center all along.
Which brings up the character of Cole Carter, the prodigious DJ in training. Zac Efron’s performance is fairly underwhelming and his character plays to too many of his weaknesses, the greatest of which is subtlety. His presence on screen pales in comparison to Wes Bentley, who dominates the more intimate scenes throughout the film. Playing Cole Carter’s mentor, James Reed, Wes Bentley delivers the greatest lines of the entire movie and manages to capture the essence of the jaded and burnt out star motif so well that the film should have been entirely centered on him. In fact, it feels like a missed opportunity that James Reed’s character isn’t fleshed out in greater detail given his well defined philosophy on music and life. Cole’s existential, millennial woes fail to dredge up much sympathy because his character lacks any well defined personality. Even the situations Cole finds himself in seem to simply fall into his lap, without much thought, effort, or reflection on his part. So much of his character feels so incomplete that it is doubtful a change in actor could feasibly salvage the role. Sophie’s character is equally boring to watch, as she simply becomes a reflection of whichever male counterpart she is paired with in the scene. She has no defined special skills, talents, friends(of her own), and lacks even the insight to articulately comment on the music she is supposedly submersed in every waking moment of her life.
The music. Oh, the music. Such a beautiful kaleidoscopic waste of some wonderful electronic music. Never fully committing to music in a film about musicians is perhaps one of the greatest sins a director could perpetrate. The music should have been front and center, but takes a backseat to an overall lackluster and uninspired story of self discovery. The moments when the music is really pumping are above and beyond some of the best moments in the film and it’s shame there are so few of them. Furthermore, the final climax of the movie feels so bizarrely composed and in such an ad hoc fashion that it doesn’t quite meet the standards set forth by the music of the rest of them. It instead ends up feeling, much like Cole’s character, disingenuous.
Overall the movie is completely watchable but ultimately unmemorable. The pacing also makes the 96 minute run time feel incredibly long. The most poignant moments are the few delectably quotable lines delivered by Wes Bentley and the movie benefits greatly by keeping Bentley in focus during most of the dramatic moments. In the end, though, it seems to be a combination of uninteresting characters coupled with a lackluster story that really detract from a movie that could have been so much more. The potential for a great movie revolving around electronic music is there, yet it remains untapped after We Are Your Friends starts rolling the credits. It is only a matter of time before the club scene gets the movie it truly deserves. In the mean time, this isn’t it.
Encoding: MPEG-2 NTSC
Clarity/Detail: Looks great and perfectly polished. Scenes are put into focus particularly well.
Depth: The movie handles depth fairly well, although most of the shots are usually close up and on the characters there are a few moments that add a satisfying sense of depth to the experience.
Black Levels: Black levels are good and consistent throughout the film. Even in the night shots and club scenes, where you’d expect lighting to cause some funkiness the movie holds its composure very well.
Color Reproduction: Colors really pop when needed and look great.
Flesh Tones: Flesh looks like flesh.
Noise/Artifacts: None that were noticeable.
Audio Formats: English SDH, French (Dubbed)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Dynamics: The music really shines in the movie and so do the dynamics. When the music is taking the stage it really has great audio presence. All the dialogue is captured with quality as well, dismissing any ambiguity as to what the actors are saying.
Low Frequency Extension: If it were anything other than amazing this movie would be almost unbearable. Thankfully, the bass really booms and all those juicy electronic drops are perfectly preserved.
Surround Sound Presentation: Done to quality when necessary.
Dialogue Reproduction: All dialogue is clean and clear.
How Zac Efron Learned To DJ – Title explains it all. Zac Efron learning how to spin and act competently at a table. No, this isn’t a typo. This is the only extra featured on the DVD.
Able to fill a vacuous 96 minutes, We Are Your Friends is a completely rentable film. Which is why the DVD only warrants a rating of 2 out of 5. With such a lackluster story, and only a single paltry extra featured on the DVD it is hard to warrant purchasing a physical copy. Given that the film isn’t on even on blu-ray just reinforces how seemingly mediocre this movie truly is. Not to mention, you can buy a digital HD version online for less than the cost of an inferior physical copy it becomes almost absurd to own this disc. The only conceivable reason to own this disc would be if you were a die hard Zac Efron fan, living a reclusive life off the grid and in the woods somewhere. Otherwise this is a waste of plastic.