Drama: A young man tries to make it as a club DJ on the L.A. club and party scene.
Cole (ZAC EFRON) has big dreams of being one of Los Angeles' top club and party DJs, but he has yet to get his big break. He lives with his buddy, Mason (JONNY WESTON), and they both pal around with aspiring young actor Ollie (SHILOH FERNANDEZ) and introverted Alex (ALEX SHAFFER). All four have big dreams, but Cole seems to have the best chance of being something more. Nevertheless, they all take jobs at a crooked, local real estate firm run by entrepreneur Paige (JON BERNTHAL), who fashions himself as a Wolf of Wall Street-type of figure.
Cole meets two people who will change his life forever. The first is Sophie (EMILY RATAJKOWSKI), a beautiful young woman who he falls for hard. The second is James Read (WES BENTLEY), a star DJ on the Los Angeles scene who is actually Sophie's boyfriend and employer. James is an alcoholic, but he knows the ins and outs of the L.A. music scene and decides to take Cole under his wing.
Unfortunately, Cole and Sophie's attraction is too much, and they eventually sleep together while partying in Las Vegas. James finds out, ends their friendship and mentor relationship, and makes it so Cole might not be able to get a job on the DJ scene ever again.
OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
It's not that I am incapable of giving a movie about a young man trying to realize his dream of becoming L.A.'s top club and party DJ a positive review. It's the fact that the new movie about that young man, "We Are Your Friends," didn't make me root for him to reach that pinnacle of success. "We Are Your Friends" wants to do for DJ-ing and electronic club music what "Pitch Perfect" did for college a-cappella groups and "Good Will Hunting" did for physics and mathematics. Lord knows, I could not care less about coeds singing in harmony or a Boston boy genius performing insanely long division. But those two movies MADE me care for a couple of hours.
"We Are Your Friends" makes the mistake of making its protagonist not particularly dynamic. And his circle of friends and enablers around him were just atrociously unlikable. There's no Fat Amy or Chuckie Sullivan here. Even worse, the film didn't show me that DJ-ing is anything other than spinning records of music other more talented people have already made, with the DJ just adding little remix touches of his or her own and passing them off as some kind of art. Zac Efron's Cole tries to explain at one point that a good DJ will literally cause physical and even chemical changes in the bodies of those on the dance floors beneath them. That a good mix and a good spin will elevate blood pressure, fire off endorphins, and cause involuntary movements. A bad DJ will keep people off the dance floor, in their seats, waiting for better entertainment.
But I dunno. It all sounds like one long, endless, throbbing beat to me. Any bit of heavy percussion seem to get people up and moving around these days. At one point, Cole points to the mega-successful DJ James Read (Wes Bentley) as having "sold out" and gone on auto-pilot for simply taking requests and playing what people want to hear. That he has no "creativity." But when it comes time for Cole to play his "sick beats," they're no different or better than what we've heard James playing earlier.
Efron stars as the poor artist trying to make it big. Cole makes money by promoting other DJs' gigs along with his three obnoxious friends: Mason (Jonny Weston), a hot-head looking to always fight; Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), an aspiring actor who makes ends meet by being a low-level drug dealer; and Squirrel (Alex Shaffer), the nerdy dreamer of the bunch who continually wonders "Are we ever going to be better than this?" When Cole comes under the influence of James and strikes up a friendship with him, this causes mild friction with Mason and the others. But the friendship with the star DJ is doomed when Cole falls for his girlfriend, Sophie (the former model Emily Ratajkowski, whose gi-normous, pouty lips will be frightening if she ever gets cast in a big-budget 3-D action movie).
Efron continues to fall into the trap that former kids' TV darlings Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez set for him of appearing in hard R-rated films in which he and everyone around smoke pot, do drugs, pound back liquor, engage in promiscuous sex, and use way too many swear words. Cole and Mason and the rest can't just say things like "I'll do it later" or "Where are you going?" They have to puff up their chests and say "I'll f***ing do it later" and "Where are you f***ing going?" It gets so laughable that you almost believe these little boys are cursing for the first time ever and finding it just so cool.
And what is Jon Bernthal doing in this? He factors into a needless subplot of the four guys going to work for his shady real estate investment firm and losing their souls when they have to cold-call people on the verge of foreclosure to try and bilk them out of their homes. The whole thing plays like cheap, imitation "Wolf of Wall Street," which Bernthal co-starred in and shamelessly rips off Leo DiCaprio's performance here. Or, I'm sorry. He cuts, scratches, and re-mixes his performance into something new and artful. NOT!
The only one doing credible work here is Bentley, who does infuse some quiet wisdom into a few of his scenes with Efron. I particularly liked a moment they had together late in the film where Cole tells James it's been weeks since he cut anything decent. And James quietly mutters, "Don't let it become years." Earlier, he quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson's "imitation is suicide," and it actually works in the context of a discussion the two were having about what art really is.
If the film had a bit more of an indie spirit and vibe to it, this might have been something interesting. I did like some of the visual flourishes director Max Joseph reached for throughout and pulled off. A scene where Cole trips out on PCP at an art gallery party and watches the color of the various paintings bleed off their canvases and onto the various attendees is terrific. The film's tech credits are also top-notch, especially its deceptively intricate sound design.
Some better characters and a better script were sorely needed here. And the end where Cole has praise heaped on him for a mix he puts together of sound effects from his house and neighborhood and sound bite quotes from his loser friends that we have heard throughout the film is such a laughably bad piece of "music" that you almost feel sorry for the couple thousand extras at an outdoor festival forced to dance and cheer to it. I hate it in movies when they try and convince you that you're watching someone create great art when showing the most amateur hack job, like the short, narratively shapeless film of his friends that the geek director made in "Rent" or Winona Ryder's boring documentary that Ben Stiller rightfully re-cut in "Reality Bites."
Sigh. Someone should have broken into the editing booth and offered similar to help to Mr. Joseph. He needed it! I rate his "Friends" a 4 out of 10. (T. Durgin)