We Are Your Friends opens with that increasing popular Guy Ritchie/Edgar Wright style jump-cut exposition montage, and does a good job capturing the hectic ins and outs of promoting and just being a young person looking for a good time. Zac Efron plays a little against type as Cole Carter, a friendly but withdrawn artist who struggles to find his voice on a night out, let alone in his music. Jonny Weston plays his usual laid-back-but-always-on-the-verge-of-frenzy California dude, and really helps bring focus back to Carter’s friends when the movie drifts away from them towards Wes Bentley and his girlfriend Emily Ratajkowski.”
Bentley plays tired, jaded old EDM producer James, who used to have a glimmer of talent but now just gives the people what they want. Ratajkowski plays his long-suffering girlfriend-turned-assistant Sophie, who has been managing the downward spiral of this former star. Enter Cole, who reinvigorates James’ love for music while simultaneously capturing the affection of Sophie.
This movie has a lot to say about the terror of creation, and the idea of compromising your time and your soul in order to keep your head above water. It also makes some damning claims about the state of music today, particularly electronic music and sampling in general, but it doesn’t lean too hard on those points. At its core it’s about Cole, a young man with little yet to say who is nevertheless trying to figure out how to express himself in one of the most restrictive musical genres available. Throughout the runtime, the idea of listening to the world around him for the sounds that make up his life is embedded skilfully and actually pays off quite well when we get to hear the finished product.
Jon Bernthal does an excellent Alec Baldwin/Jordan Belfort impersonation mashup as real estate shark Paige, in a role that kind of exists outside of the main story, when Cole and his are forced to take jobs as salesmen in order to get the actual funding together for their dream. This is the part of the movie that deals with the idea of conceding a bit of your youth and your passion in order to make the money your future self will need to live out the dreams you concocted as a young person – never knowing how much that soulless job will change your future self and aspirations.
It’s a movie that aims high, and mostly finds its mark, even if it gets a little lost in the middle. You could say Cole himself gets a little lost as he pinballs between the aspirations for his music and obligations to his friends.
Obviously if you particularly dislike dance music, it’s going to be hard to get on board with the central premise here. But whether you love it or hate it, We Are Your Friends does a particularly good job of portraying electronic music as the great equaliser – a stripped down and simplified genre that relies on a ‘caveman beat’ and a basic grasp of human physiology in order to “get people out of their heads and into their bodies”. It’s in this thesis, coming to fruition in the final act, that the movie ultimately finds its narrative rhythm, and builds the story of Cole to a satisfying musical crescendo.