"We Are Your Friends"
Directed by Max Joseph
As summer comes to a close, it is time for the studios to release the schlock they didn’t trust enough for a summer debut. “We Are Your Friends” is the embodiment of that schlock. It uses cliche, meandering plots starring beautiful and dull actors playing beautiful and dull characters centered around whatever subculture is popular with teens.
Unfortunately, even with those low standards, this movie couldn’t even provide the audience with a clear narrative to follow. The main conflict is for Cole (Zac Efron), a struggling disc jockey, to make a name for himself in the electronic dance music scene. But his story has no stakes. He has no debt to pay. He has no deadlines. There is no conflict he has to overcome. Because of this, the movie has no heartbeat. There is nothing driving Cole to become a popular DJ other than himself, which would be fine if there were any moments of introspection, agony or disappointment that were shown. We see him working on his music in his room and the studio, but for the entire second act we see no sign he is still working. It isn’t until the last 10 minutes where he finds his voice. It isn’t a satisfying realization because the audience wasn’t part of the process of discovery. This only makes the conclusion seem unrealistic and unemotional.
Another way of looking at the main conflict is Cole’s transition from his old self, represented by his friends from the unfashionable San Fernando Valley, California, to his new self, expressed by his rich friends from the EDM world. Any clash between his old and new friends has no repercussions and stops him from progressing as a character. For example, Cole is DJing a party at the house of rich and famous James Reed (Wes Bentley) when his friends, whom Cole grew up with, crash the party and get into a fight with a rich man who talks down about their hometown. In the next scene, Cole and Reed colloquially apologize, and it is never spoken about again. This cuts any tension from the old and new, sucking any transitioning pain from Cole’s character.
Movies can work without clear plots. “The Big Lebowski,” “Inherent Vice” and “My Dinner with Andre” all work without obvious narratives. But those movies have characters that are likeable, engaging and distinctly written. “We Are Your Friends” has no characters the audience can identify with. Cole’s old friends are irritating, egotistical and marauding. The characterization of Cole’s love interest Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) ends with her body. We are told she went to Stanford University, but there is no indication through her actions or dialogue that she was smart or witty enough to be accepted there. Plus she has a total lack of self-awareness as she rambles about living in the “real world” while leaning on the Lamborghini she drives. The only character who is mildly interesting is washed-up mentor, DJ Reed. As the movie progresses, the audience sees his character devolve into an abusive alcoholic. But there is no visual resolution to his alcoholism. His character acts exactly the same way at the end as he did in the beginning.
Another reason why “We Are Your Friends” lacked any sort of cohesiveness was the inclusion of too many subplots. We see Cole trying to be a great DJ, trying to be a good friend, trying to be a romantic interest and trying to make money at a shady business. Instead of all of these forays collapsing underneath him because he demonstrates a failure to balance his life, every time he fails it has no repercussions on his relationships whatsoever. After ditching his friends to spend the night with Sophie, his friends forgive him, and it is never spoken about again. When his friends ruin Reed’s house party, Reed forgives them, and it is never spoken about again. When Reed quits his job providing predatory loans to people whose houses are being foreclosed, it is never spoken about again. All conflict that could be explored and reveal the characters’ true identities are squandered.
The only redeeming moments in the movie are fast-paced montage sequences using calligraphy, cartography and voiceover. Reminiscent of “Trainspotting,” their energy and pace was a distinct high point. Another moment that brought life back onto the screen was a drug sequence wherein Cole, unknowingly, took angel dust and went to an opening for an art show. Paintings came alive and people turned into cartoons, enveloped by color and sound. All of these moments happen within the first 15 minutes. The next 80 minutes is devoid of any pace or style these sequences show.
“We Are Your Friends” is a complete mess of plot, character and structure that directorial style could not mask. It is a jumbled mess from beginning to end with too many vapid characters for an audience to maintain interest.