With friends like these: Zac Efron's club-hopping drama suffers from a fatal lack of rhythm
Will a more chillingly titled film be released this year than We Are Your Friends? If the heroes of Max Joseph’s club-hopping drama were so much as casual acquaintances, you’d probably throw your mobile phone down a ravine and make for the nearest cave.
It’s a film about the tensions between ambition and loyalty that arise when someone’s on the brink of "making it big": in this case, Cole Carter, an aspirant DJ played by Zac Efron, who finds himself unexpectedly doted on by a thirty-something veteran record-spinner called James (Wes Bentley). The older man is losing his edge a bit, but improbably hears some potential in Cole’s nondescript demo track.
Cole’s three wheeling-dealing buddies from the San Fernando Valley – the dusty, flat expanse on the wrong side of the Hollywood sign – are mostly delighted for him. The test of loyalty instead concerns James’s beautiful girlfriend and PA Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), with whom Cole ham-fistedly flirts in a nightclub before realising her connection to his mentor.
Everything you’d expect to happen does, with Cole bouncing between increasingly important gigs, risky money-making schemes and forbidden romantic liaisons, all while searching for the unique sound that will make him a star.
Efron is an actor who’s supremely comfortable in his environment – he’s always hoisting himself up on walls and swinging around on bars – and the creative ease of his movement has made him fun to watch in every film he’s made, from the High School Musical trilogy to Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy, and even this. But his character here is, sad to say, a bit of a nitwit. Cole confidently announces in an early scene that all you need to make it as a DJ is a laptop, a little musical talent and one great track, although the film never really gets beyond the laptop.
The script, which was co-written by first-time director Joseph and Meaghan Oppenheimer, has a lot to say about the mechanics of dance music, but the music itself is horribly deployed, and for all the X-ray shots of pumping hearts and Ratajkowski jiggling dutifully in much the same way she did in the Blurred Lines video, there isn’t a single sequence that gets you bobbing in your seat. The plot’s sense of rhythm is similarly lop-sided: there’s a thread in which Cole takes a part-time job at a dubious mortgage broker that’s left almost entirely undeveloped, and only seems to be there to give Efron’s character a moral dimension he doesn’t do enough to deserve.
We Are Your Friends compares badly to so many very recent films, its release feels almost deliberately poorly timed. As a multi-sensory exploration of club culture it doesn’t hold a candle to Mia Hansen-Løve’s wispy, elliptical Eden, its reality-bending animations look like cheap gimmicks next to The Diary of a Teenage Girl’s rapturously doodled interludes, and its young bucks on the make would last for around 30 seconds in Straight Outta Compton. But let’s not get too bogged down in unflattering comparisons: it’s a smug, abrasive mess in its own right.