This silly DJ drama spins some killer beats.
This enormously fun late-summer surprise, which borrows both its title and its pulsating beat from a 2006 dance hit by the electronic duo Justice, is every bit as ridiculous as you might expect (and hope for) from a romantic drama starring Zac Efron as a DJ and directed by the gray-haired camera guy from Catfish: The TV Show (Max Joseph). Essentially cobbled together from all of the excitement that was cut from Mia Hansen-Løve’s far superior Eden (a more sober exploration of club music subculture), We Are Your Friends stars Efron as 23-year-old Cole Carter, whose evolution the film traces from puppy-eyed party promoter to genuine musician.
The movie follows a silly, trite yet totally seductive trajectory that finds its beefcake hero becoming the protégé of a burned-out success story named James (Wes Bentley). A tortured alcoholic who’s rich from spinning the same tired jams in clubs from Paris to Ibiza, James has everything Cole wants—including a sultry girlfriend-assistant, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski)—but nothing he admires. Meanwhile, Cole’s soulful posse of delinquent buddies, each one of them striving to climb out of the San Fernando Valley, are caught up in a house-flipping scheme with a shady real estate developer. “The world is ours,” these kids keep telling themselves, but they’re emblematic of a generation that’s paradoxically stifled by the infinitude of its own potential.
We Are Your Friends doesn’t rewrite the tune on movies about sexy young musicians who learn “to thine own self be true,” but it remixes it with style. Thumping with high-octane energy from start to finish, the film grabs hold of your body to get you out of your mind. Joseph’s synesthetic approach relies on a grab bag of visual techniques to ensure that you can always see the music: Equalizer bars pulse onscreen, dialogue is transformed into slogans as giant text fills the frame, and the restless camera swirls to capture the weightless euphoria of getting lost in the perfect song. Crucially, the film never pretends that deejaying is a mystical (or even valid) art form—Cole just wants to express himself, and Efron taps into the same sad tenderness that made him such a tragicomic revelation in Neighbors. Sure, this movie will be hilariously out of date in 10 years (or 10 minutes), but it lives in the moment.
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Cast and crew