Cole Carter’s (Zac Efron) dream of becoming a famous DJ take a step closer to reality when he is taken under the wing of a superstar (Wes Bentley).
If Hollywood decided to remake Mia Hansen-Løve’s dreamy verité Eden, but brought in development executives to ‘fix’ the narrative structure, character arcs and nouvelle vague noodling, the result might look a lot like We Are Your Friends. Our own Working Title may be at the controls, but the tracks laid down by the script are so traditional, it might as well be a clubland spin on Hollywood perennial A Star is Born.
After a memorable turn in Bad Neighbours, former High School Musical star Zac Efron takes centre stage as 23-year-old Cole Carter, an aspiring DJ who lives with three friends “on the wrong side of the Hollywood Hills,” tirelessly promoting college club nights while dreaming of bigger things. Cole gets a massive break when, for no adequately explained reason, he is taken under the wing of ageing superstar DJ James Reed (finally, a decent role for Wes Bentley), who generously lends Cole his state-of-the-art studio, and unwisely encourages him to hang out with girlfriend-slash-assistant Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski, arguably the “Blurred Lines” video’s MVP). Cole recognises James’s patronage as the life-changing opportunity that could turn his dreams into reality – if only he can keep his hands on the (virtual) turntables, and off Sophie. You can guess how that goes.
Co-written and directed by first-timer Joseph (Catfish: The TV Show), and named after the club track by Justice vs Simian, We Are Your Friends is at its best when it’s focused on the core triumvirate of Efron, Ratajkowski and Bentley, and at its most authentic when talking about the music, such as when Cole explains that to be a good DJ takes crowd-pleasing choons, an ability to tune into the clubbers hive mind, and “one killer track”, ideally of the home-brew variety. Less convincing is the clunky ‘adventures in real estate’ subplot that cock-blocks the dramatic potential of Cole’s relationship with his friends, one of whom is lost to a coyly unexplained (but presumably drug-related) death, for no better reason than Cole needs a Moment of Truth at the third act break.
But for these bum notes, We Are Your Friends might really have resonated with audiences clamouring for the next big club culture movie. Instead, it feels as fake as the digital decks that double for turntables for Tiesto/Skrillex/Oakenfold wannabes everywhere.
Zac Efron makes a convincing bid for movie stardom – and Ratajkowski proves she’s more than just a pretty face – in this flawed, forgettable, yet fitfully entertaining film, even if it all goes a bit Pete Tong at the end. Still, Efron fans and other undiscerning millennials might embrace the music, if not the movie. ★★★