Take a Drink: for each over-stylized moment
Take a Drink: whenever the characters do
Do a Shot: each time the bass drops
Take a Drink: during each running montage
Take a Drink: for each predictable moment
Do a Shot: each time Zac Efron zones out
Do a Shot: for each new song
By: Matt Conway (Two Beers) –
Like many grown-up child actors these days, Zac Efron has shown that he has his fair share of talent. Sure, he has had his fair share of lackluster projects, but for the most part has been open to doing interesting roles throughout his career. From a raunchy comedy like Neighbors, to a musical like Hairspray, to even a seriously underrated dramatic turn in At Any Price, Efron has shown he has the talent to have a successful career in Hollywood.
Still, Efron seems to hold onto the crutch of being a teen-heartthrob a bit too much, which is disappointing to see. Roles in films like That Awkward Moment, The Lucky One, and Charlie St. Cloud showed little of Efron’s great potential; being made mostly for the money. Many were writing off Efron’s latest We Are Your Friends as being similarly uninspired. To much surprise, though, it’s an alive and amplified flick with its heart in the right place.
We Are Your Friends follows Cole Carter, an aspiring DJ wasting time with his friends in the San Fernando Valley. One night while promoting a party, he runs into James Reed, a well-established DJ, who becomes Cole’s mentor.
We Are Your Friends looks fantastic, despite essentially being an independently made flick. Cinematographer Brett Pawlak, who last shot 2013’s fantastic Short Term 12, captures the film beautifully. Every shot is beautifully done, capturing the scale and beauty of the Valley, especially the night life. Pawlak shoots a lot of close-ups of the characters, which when done wrong can be a turn off. Here, though, it intimately captures the thoughts and emotions of the characters without saying a word.
We Are Your Friends is a film that really goes for it when it comes to style. Off the bat I give credit for directors who are willing to go for it stylistically, and director Max Joseph delivers style nicely for the most part. From the fonts to the quick-cuts, the film creates a sense of tempo that fits its EDM music like a glove. When all the elements come together, it’s something quite unique and interesting to see, especially on the big screen.
One of the big turn-offs about this movie for audiences is its heavy inclusion of EDM music. Personally I am not a big fan of that kind of music, but that was not a detriment while watching. As weird as its sounds initially, EDM music is just like all other music, inspired by the sounds and sights of the artist behind it. If the music is the reason people aren’t interested in the movie, I advise they give it a chance.
The cast here is quite good. Zac Efron continues to show he has leading man ability here, being incredibly likable and earnest as Cole. He has presence in the role, and thanks to that he makes Cole a character audiences want to follow. The standout in the film, however, is Wes Bentley as James. He clearly is having a lot fun in the role, but also brings his great dramatic chops to it as the successful, yet cynical mentor. Bentley shines and clearly does a lot of with what could have been a thankless role.
Supporting them is a young supporting cast that is very much up to the task. Emily Ratajkowski has shown even with only a few roles she has a bright future ahead of her. She has great presence on screen and is instantly likable. Efron’s friends, played by Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer, and Johnny Weston, also do solid work with their limited roles.
We Are Your Friends boasts a script that does quite a bit well. Written by Meaghan Oppenheimer and Max Joseph, the duo show an adept ability to write dialogue. There are a few jokes that feel too obvious, but there are also a great deal that work nicely. The comedic aspect was a surprise and made for a nice change of pace, keeping the film quite enjoyable throughout.
While We Are Your Friends is not the most insightful film, there is quite a bit of honesty in its script. Its tackling of the subject of trying to do what’s good for your soul and what’s good for your wallet was well done, and did not feel like over-privileged kids complaining. Cole clearly has a deep passion for the music he is creating, but also learns that he must put himself and his experiences into it to make it his own. Again, not the most unique or hefty themes, but well-incorporated in the film for sure.
Where the script struggles, though, is with the story. There are several twists thrown in to surprise audiences, but for the most part the film’s story feels incredibly cliched. It has all the cliches that music flicks like this typically have, which took away from my engagement with the movie. It’s hard to really be involved when you can see every plot point coming from a mile away. Perhaps we have been spoiled by so many original music flicks this year.
A lot of the side aspects in the film are poorly managed. There is a subplot involving Jon Bernthal and a real-estate company that they go to, along with the arcs of his three friends, which all make the film feel very over-stuffed. At only 96 minutes long, it’s hard to in fit so much narrative, and the script’s effort to do so leads to some severely under-developed aspects of the film.
A minor complaint involves some of the stylistic aspects. Most are done very well. However, some elements, like text popping up, are done too inconsistently throughout the film. Either dedicate to the style choice, or don’t do it at all.
Despite some flaws in the script, We Are Your Friends is an authentic and unique music flick that excites with a great deal of style and flair. It’s a shame it flamed out at the box office, but I am sure this is not the last we’ve seen of Zac Efron.