We Are Your Friends Review: 1 & 1/2 PCP-laced pingers out of 5
With lofty ambitions to accurately portray American #EDM youth culture, WAYF trainwrecks out of an ambitious mix.
A few months ago when the trailer for Zac Efron's upcoming DJ opus We Are Your Friends was released we ran a TRAILER BREAKDOWN dissecting the three minutes of banger cinema within an inch of its life. Why? Because we are supposed to be their friends. We are the wannabe DJs, the super cool club promoters, the disenfranchised youth lobbing a few #pingers on the weekends to get away from the harsh realities of our rough upper-middle-class upbringing… Obviously #EDM culture in America compared to Australia is something of a different beast, no matter how hard Steresonic tries to tell you otherwise, but it's by and large fairly similar territory for your average weekend.
And in many ways, We Are You Friends and its four protagonists accurately represent that. Set on "the other side" of the infamous Hollywood hills amidst the long, flat streets of San Fernando Valley we have the aspiring DJ (Zac Efron’s Cole Carter), the moral compass/bleeding heart of the group, Squirrel (Alex Shaffer), Ollie the aspiring actor who’s a bit of a dick but you love him anyway (Shiloh Fernandez), and the loose cannon with a heart of gold (and potentially a meth habit), Mason (Jonny Weston). We all have friends like these. These are our crew. Stereotypical as they may be; they exist in and around our social circles to some degree. The four friends also have a weird obssession with sushi that permeates throughout the film, I guess that's to appeal us #GenY kids and our obbsession with Japanese food.
And do a bloody great job of it.
They’re also kinda dicky jocks, but not to the point where you can’t get on board with what they’re going for. Which is having a good time, and promoting parties. Well, as far as this film goes it seems to be only one party, a Thursday night at the “Social”, and they employ some supremely old school methods of promoting. Namely, handing out flyers at the front of a college to the hot girls only. Mason heads the promotion/party side of things, Carter scores shitty DJ slots in the sideroom fielding Beyonce requests (and taking over from one of a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-it actual DJ cameos), Fernandez’s Ollie slings drugs to fund his struggling acting career (obvs), and Squirrel is just trying to bury his nuts.
They’ve got a tight little ship running, but the club owner pays them peanuts even though they brought in 562 girls to the club (their post-night book keeping is tight af). And this is where a couple of side plots come in to play. The guys begin working for Jon Bernthal’s Paige and his business scamming people out of their homes to make some easy cash. Meanwhile the once-cool-but-now-past-it producer/DJ James Reese (Wes Bentley) takes Carter under his wing in an attempt to recapture his own glory/create a conflict whereby Carter falls in love with Reese's girlfriend/personal assistant, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski).
If his character didn't go to jail/die in Wolf Of Wall Street this is exactly who he would have become.
From there you can kinda telegraph where it all moves forward. It’s full of music movie clichés – a previously uninterested crowd starts picking up what it is the new kid is putting down, a death in the family, friends clashing over feeling left behind/not wanting to grow up, a montage spent writing the perfect song, a scene where drugs and music come together in magical ways… It’s got it all.
And to be fair, there’s a couple of scenes where they get the whole youth/#EDM/molly culture pretty right. The afforementioned sideroom DJ scene is painfully real for anyone who's tried to take their DJing from the bedroom to clubs via shitty early slots. An earlier scene with Carter, Reese and some PCP at a private party is what we all wish our trips were like. And later the guys go to a fireworks-fuelled music festival in Vegas, talking plenty of pre-game pump, sweating about getting drugs in… that kinda stuff. Our hero and girl get on one and have a fantastical evening running around, talking shit, making out, dancing to bangers, staring at lights, checking into a hotel on a whim... It’s the kinda stuff you have done at a festival, or you should be doing when in reality you're just back at a mate's house trying really hard not to accidentally drink the bong water.
The magic number.
Where the movie lets itself down is how seriously it takes itself. DJ culture – especially what's portrayed in the film – is (and let’s not fuck spiders here) a bit of a joke. The only person in this movie that seems to understand this is Bentley’s has-been DJ lord. His character is the only one who knows how ridiculous the whole #EDM world is (his productions tips are pretty on-the-nose as well), and he spends most of the film drunk and/or high, trying to hook up with anyone besides his super hot girlfriend/PA (which by the way, is a weird relationship model to begin with). To the movie's credit, Reese never goes full dickhead when he could have easily been the archetypal super bad guy we’re supposed to hate. So kudos there.
I won’t go into the Bernthal-house scamming side plot because it’s pretty pointless and that's pretty much all there is to it; the trailer gives you a pretty accurate play by play of what you're in for. And if you’ve seen the Aussie doof movie One Perfect Day, the field recordings plot plays out almost identically in this film (to the point where WAYF is basically an American remake tbh). I will say big-ups to some Aussie #EDM stars like Hayden James and Go Freek/Dom Dolla, whose music gets repped in a couple of key scenes*.
Look, it’s not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, and it's pretty obvious the filmmakers have some clue about the culture/lifestyle they are representing. The problem is how seriously they take said world. So if you try not to take it as seriously as the people making it were, you’ll at least get a giggle out of it. Because if nothing else, watching Zac Efron’s character dead seriously explain the diverse array of BPMs there are (reggae, dubstep, house and hardcore, FYI), which one is the optimum to get people moving, and then how to work your way up to that magic 128, is worth the price of admission alone.
We Are You Friends gets 1 & 1/2 PCP-laced pingers out of 5, but if you have a couple more before going into it you'll have a good time.
We Are Your Friends is in cinemas from this Thursday 28 August, we've got some double passes to giveaway, just email firstname.lastname@example.org with WAYF in the subject header.
*Dom Dolla and Go Freek's Define is being played by James Reese in the clurb while Cole is shit-talking him to his girlfriend about being a sellout and just playing what people want to hear, while Hayden James' Something About You is being played by Cole at a pool party when Sophie comes up to him and says he needs to ramp it up because no one's dancing. So really, this movie hates Australian dance music. Minus another half-pinger.