Recently we saw Eden, Mia Hansen-Love’s drama following an aspiring young DJ pursuing success and tracing the rise of Daft Punk and the development of garage dance music in France, which left me a little cold. This low budget feature from America also looks at an aspiring DJ who is aiming to make a name for himself in the cutthroat world of the LA club scene. As with Eden though this is a film of limited appeal and will mainly find an audience amongst those who love electronic dance music.
The central character here is Cole Carter (played by High School Musical hunk Zac Efron), an aspiring young DJ who has been born and raised in the unfashionable San Fernando Valley outside of LA, a place that is renowned for giving the world the porn industry. Cole’s best friends include the self destructive Mason (Jonny Weston, from Project Almanac), Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez, from the Evil Dead remake), an aspiring actor moonlighting as a drug dealer, and the shy Squirrel (Alex Shaffer, from Win Win), the only one who has gone to college, and they are all trying to realise their dreams. The three work as spruikers for Social, a local nightclub where Cole occasionally Djs.
Then a chance meeting with legendary DJ James Reed (Wes Bentley, from American Beauty) changes his life. Reed however now is washed-up and considered a “sell out” and has lost that edge he used to have a decade earlier. However, Cole and Reed begin to collaborate, and Reed becomes a mentor to the younger and hungry Cole. But Cole is attracted to Sophie (model Emily Ratajkowski, best known for her appearance in Robin Thicke’s controversial video for his hit song Blurred Lines), Reed’s personal assistant and girlfriend, and this romantic triangle creates tension between the pair that may derail his ambitions before they even get off the ground.
Cole is working on creating that one epic tune that will be his breakthrough. And in the meantime, he and his friends have found work with Paige (Jon Bernthal), a sleazy real estate broker who is making a fortune from cold calling people who are facing foreclosure after defaulting on their mortgages. This subplot (which seems like it may have been ripped off from another film like the far superior 99 Homes) brings about a moral dilemma that explores the desperation of these boys from the wrong edge of town who want to make a quick fortune to escape their environment. Soon though Cole has to make a decision and is forced to choose between his music and his friends.
We Are Your Friends is not just a drama about the world of music or the excitement of creating music, but it is also a coming-of-age tale that explores concepts of friendship and loyalty and chasing your dream. The film marks the feature debut for writer/director Max Joseph (host of Catfish: The TV Show), a former editor who has worked extensively on short documentaries. Joseph wrote the film with Meaghan Oppenheimer, and he brings a melancholy touch to his depiction of this hedonistic lifestyle of music, drugs and hard partying. He also manages to bring an energy to those scenes that is missing from much of the film, which often descends into cliche. Joseph makes some bold stylistic choices here, most notably with the use of clever and surreal animation during one sequence in while Cole hallucinates while on a drug trip and another sequence in which Cole explains the effects that dance music can have on the body. But generally his pacing is uneven and the film seems to drag in places.
Trying to break away from his vapid teen idol image, Efron does choose some diverse and challenging roles and he has delivered some interesting dramatic performances in films like Me and Orson Welles and the gritty, noir-like crime drama The Paperboy, in which he gave one of his best performances. Here he delivers a nicely nuanced performance that adds depth to his fairly shallow character. Efron worked with real life DJ Alesso so that he moves and looks convincing as he spins music from his laptop.
Bentley brings a suitably world weary quality to his performance as the cynical Reed, his presence lends a touch of gravitas to the thin and rather bland material. Ratajkowski’s performance is a little tentative and she tries hard to bring some life to a rather stereotyped character. Weston brings a volatile quality to his performance as the obnoxious and increasingly dangerous Mason, while Shaffer’s Squirrel is easily the more sympathetic figure of Cole’s flawed friends.
But as its disappointing box office figures showed, there is not a huge audience out there for a film about an aspiring DJ undergoing a crisis of conscience. It’s available now on DVD, Blu-ray and on-demand.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television