We Are Your Friends (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
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We Are Your Friends (2015)

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All it takes is a solid beat, a good hook, and a receptive crowd to become the next EDM sensation.  That's what Cole Carter believes as he spins at night and creates by day.  A chance encounter with one of his musical idols puts his dream tantalizingly close, but his new mentor's girlfriend seems receptive to Cole's style.  Max Joseph writes and directs We Are Your Friends, cowritten by Meaghan Oppenheimer, and stars Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski, and Wes Bentley.

Sparkle morning happy whateverZac Efron’s carved out an odd career trajectory in his cinematic outings.  He started off as a generic teenage cutie in High School Musical moving on to slight fare like 17 Again.  But he’s also sought out roles in films helmed by the likes of Richard Linklater (Me and Orson Welles), Lee Daniels (The Paperboy), and Ramin Bahrani (At Any Price).  Efron hasn’t exactly blossomed as a performer in these projects but he at least shows a restless spirit willing to take a chance on smaller projects instead of jumping at whatever romcom looks the most appealing.

We Are Your Friends fits comfortably into this niche.  It’s writer / director Max Joseph’s first film after Joseph worked primarily on television and is the sort of “coming of age” story young auteurs like to get out of their system.  This is the sort of project Efron could use to break out as a performer worth taking seriously, not unlike Dustin Hoffman did with The Graduate or more recently Michael B. Jordan did with Fruitvale Station.

The key factor with those two performances, which Efron does not have to work with, is the film backing those performers is solid. We Are Your Friends is not a solid film.  Joseph, along with coscreenwriter Meaghan Oppenheimer, made a terrible if earnest movie about shallow characters.  He switches between narrative and visual styles so often I got the impression he was afraid to cut back because this might be the only time he’s behind the camera.  Unless his craft tightens up this fear is entirely justified.

Might as well let the friends fade out, because their contributions to Cole's story matter little.

Might as well let the friends fade out, because their contributions to Cole's story matter little.

Joseph’s shotgun approach is evident shortly after we meet Cole (Efron) working on his EDM songs. I was digging the way the camera wafted in and out of his creative space while his friend argued with a club promoter about Cole’s performance slot.  As soon as we’re out of this sequence Cole’s off and running in flat, carefully balanced shots with no moving camera and Cole’s narration suddenly pouring from the speakers.  Then Cole and his buddy work on a roof in slow motion and we watch Cole shower the same way.

This is a grab bag of styles and Joseph’s detours into animated rotoscoping and on-screen text don’t create a cohesive viewpoint. You could make a brief case for the animation because Cole’s on PCP – but why is Cole narrating with onscreen prompts how music works to the assistant of the musician he worships?  Does the slow motion used in the roof construction scene mean Cole remembers these moments in the same way as the shower he took afterward?  More importantly, just what are these scenes and techniques adding to We Are Your Friends?

Annoyance - especially when we start focusing on the character arcs. Near as I can tell, each character is written with a single defining trait which divide between hilariously broad (one guy named Squirrel is squirrelly and nervous) or borderline sexist.  All the women in We Are Your Friends exist as pleasure receptacles for the men, with one toss away characters sole screen contribution to stand annoyed in silence then say she’ll give one of the titular friends pity sex.

I love rotoscoping, but its employed here to try and jolt We Are Your Friends out of its stupor like a spasm from a sleeping limb.

I love rotoscoping, but its employed here to try and jolt We Are Your Friends out of its stupor like a spasm from a sleeping limb.

Surprisingly, these friends are shoved offscreen so Joseph can focus on the mentoring relationship Cole forms with James (Wes Bentley).  This is where the bulk of We Are Your Friends finds its conflict but is dragged down into a rote “your hero isn’t what you think he is” plotline.  What’s baffling is in case you miss this message Joseph sets up an entirely separate plotline borrowed from Glengary Glenn Ross about a real estate broker who, despite putting up a friendly front, is also shady.  The whole plot thread is an excuse to drum up some tough-guy talk for Jon Bernthal while adding more narration and text onto the screen while reiterating what's already clear from Cole and James' relationship.

The way Cole and James’ long-suffering girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) come together is a colossal embarrassment.  She’s apparently impressed that he can mansplain how music works to her while making pathetic puppy eyes when James drinks himself into a stupor.  This might work as wish fulfillment if Joseph had the visual chops to make their coming together magical but their eventual hookup is all underboob shots and ecstasy.  Whether Joseph intended Sophie’s late film offer to give Cole “free pie” is a double entendre or not matters less than the fact that her worth is tied up entirely in what she can give to Cole or James.  She does go back to school, so she’s got that going for her I guess.

We Are Your Friends needed the piss taken out of it.  There’s some promising moments where it becomes almost self-aware of its protagonists like when they pitifully explain sushi as the cause of a fight.  But when Cole finally reveals his magic song it literally causes a disruption in the order of the universe as the sun itself fades along with the power grid.  It’s the sort of earnest universe bending expression of art’s power deserving of a better song.  The rest of the movie around that song ain’t so hot either.

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Tail - We Are Your FriendsWe Are Your Friends (2015)

Directed by Max Joseph.
Screenplay written by Max Joseph and Meaghan Oppenheimer.
Starring Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski, and Wes Bentley.

Posted by Andrew

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