All a successful DJ needs, Cole (Efron) says in We Are Your Friends, is “some talent, a laptop and one track”. That may not be a very good advertisement for EDM, or electronic dance music. But Cole, you see, likes to talk, in bold, psychedelic letters, including explaining how at the “perfect beat” of 128 BPM (beats per minute), a DJ controls the listeners’ entire circulatory system (with a helpful diagram of a beating heart). When Cole talks of lower body parts (“the most important”), the camera even more helpfully moves to a woman’s butt.
But words aren’t even the worst of this film’s problems, which is purportedly about a “talented” DJ such as Cole, his friends, their small lives adjunct to unapproachable Hollywood, their drug-dealing and party-hopping, and then a famous DJ, his beautiful but neglected girlfriend, and his alcoholism. When a young DJ meets a neglected girlfriend, you know what happens. So once all of the above has meshed into anything about anything — including an unscrupulous real estate dealer — it resolves itself as something about something.
There are parties, indoors and outdoors, lots of dancing, and plenty of gyrating bodies. How much you come away knowing about the music that is moving those people is another matter.
Max Joseph, the director and co-writer, has adapted a story by Richard Silverman into this film. So there is a kernel of an idea here, which Efron at least tries to perpetuate with his hurt-eyes look. Cole and his three friends hang just outside the Hollywood circle they want to break into, he an aspiring DJ and they small-time hustlers who basically get paid for bringing in people into night clubs for events, such as a party where the successful James Reed (Bentley) is deejaying.
Whether they should be actually doing something with their lives is a question that the four friends only seldom raise, and then drop quickly. The one conversation that actually goes somewhere with this is as abruptly cut short.
Cole, however, has a way out of this life handed to him, when Reed takes him under his wings. In the one departure from cliches in We Are Your Friends, Reed, despite being beat-up and a drunkard, is essentially a good, sad person. Bentley plays him really, really well, as an honest artist, tired but not bitter.
In Reed’s entirely-white mansion (a dangerous choice given the drunken binges Reed has), Cole encounters Sophie (Ratajkowski). She is a “Stanford dropout” now working as Reed’s personal assistant, who takes offence at anyone who points out that she is essentially the much-older star’s girlfriend and keep.
Joseph, who has directed shorts and documentaries before but is directing a film for the first time, brings several arresting cultural flourishes, particularly at an art gallery where a drug-addled Cole imagines paint dripping down the art pieces and crawling up the audience.
However, Joseph or the film is not bold enough to “let itself go” — another of Cole’s suggestions. Reed, the oldest (at 40-plus), has some words of his own. “At 23 years of age,” he tells Cole, “you may not comprehend the word ‘irreparable’.” It’s not that bad, but we know the feeling.
Cast: Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski
Director: Max Joseph