“A story of searching for satisfaction beyond the momentary gratification of life”

by Steve Pulaski

Max Joseph’s We Are Your Friends, named after the 2006 techno song by the duo known as Justice, is an intriguing film about a quartet of young adults who know they’re too smart to fall prey to society’s “9 to 5” lifestyle and decide to try to turn their passion into a profession. The passion in question is DJing and creating electronic dance music (EDM) and using it as a tool to “control” partygoers, in a way. In a key scene in the film, Cole (Zac Efron), our main character, explains to us how many “beats per minute” are used in certain musical genres, and how EDM is special when used at parties because, with a few simple DJ tricks and the right pacing and structure of songs, one can essentially take over the circulatory system of a person and their entire body just by the way he or she chooses to mix and play the music. It’s fascinating insight to how a DJ operates because they are either (a) emptily criticized at parties or (b) taken advantage of more than the barrage of alcohol and mixers present at your average nightclub.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. The film revolves around Cole and his three friends, Dustin (Jonny Weston), Squirrel (Alex Shaffer), and Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), who live in the San Fernando Valley, aren’t enrolled in school, and are trying to find a way to share their love and talent with the world. The four wind up working a job as slickster real estate agents, cold-calling gaggles of people facing foreclosures and collecting commission off of their boss’s unethical business practices. And yet, the big time is in their reach, so it seems, when an older DJ named James (Wes Bentley) contacts Cole and becomes his mentor, promising bigger gigs and potentially a spot in the lineup at the upcoming Summerfest. All of this could be corrupted, however, when Cole begins seeing Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), James’s beautiful girlfriend and Cole’s desire to continue partying with his friends rather than getting entirely serious about his future.

We Are Your Friends
Directed by
Max Joseph
Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski
Release Date
28 August 2015
Steve’s Grade: B

To be frank, I’ve always detested EDM/rave culture for many reasons that could sustain a whole separate blog post, but writers Max Joseph (of Catfish fame) and Meaghan Oppenheimer make a film that explores the culture from all angles, including the ones involving drugs and death (admittedly not to a very impacting extent). DJing and music-creation is a rather innocuous act of self-expression, but when mixed in with large crowds, carefree drug use, copious amounts of alcohol, and teenage hormones, it becomes a hot bed of mistreatment and disrespect to both sexes. Joseph and Oppenheimer show this without becoming too moralistic.

This is a film, plain and simple, about a group of young men going through a quarter life crisis (most fully grown adults will sneer at this term if they haven’t already at the plot of this film). We focus on characters that are faced with the decision to either stick with their passion and hope to turn it into a lucrative gig, or keep doing it as a side project and go where easy money can be made (minimum wage jobs, working construction, etc). They choose the former, which bewilders and frustrates their baby boomer parents, who likely settled for the first wage-paying job they could find at their ages and put their happiness in the back of their mind (for a number of reasons other than just momentary income, mind you).

With that, We Are Your Friends does boast its fair share of shortcomings. For one, I was hoping that this would be a film much like Spring Breakers, which was specific enough where you could draw main points but also abstract enough where several tangents could be attached to already present themes. Not to mention, that was a film so mesmerizing and hypnotic that it practically sucked you into its world and refused to let you go, even when the credits began rolling. While Brett Pawlak’s cinematography is strong and elevated by Terel Gibson’s slick editing, which is partly reliant on quick cuts, large, open shots of characters dancing, and the occasional animated sequence, it doesn’t have the same immersive qualities Spring Breakers came equipped with. In order to truly captivate the target audience this film is going for, you need to grab them by the collars with language and images they understand and this film doesn’t always do that. It’s sometimes depressingly linear and routine.

The film also bears its fair share of questionable moments, especially the resolution, which comes so quickly it begs an explanation. Meanwhile, Zac Efron, and actor I’ve defended since his starring role in 17 Again, is as affable as he’s ever been, though his supporting cast is largely made up of goofballs who can periodically make an impression, and Joseph’s desire to keep things simple works at the same it doesn’t in terms of creating a captivating film.

With all that on the table, We Are Your Friends still has considerable merit. For as popular as EDM currently is, I’m stunned it took this long for a mainstream film to focus on it, and the fact we got a film as attractive and fun as this makes me very happy. The film will speak to a great deal of young people, like myself, who choose to give it the time of day and extract something meaningful from it. It’s a story of searching for satisfaction beyond the momentary gratification of life, which, paradoxically, is what DJing, raves, and clubbing is all about. It’s best to look at this film as an examination of modern, young adult angst and the fight to make your life worth more than a paycheck than a film about one long party, though I’m not sure I see the target audience for this film extracting that. They might not yet be at that “now what?” stage these characters are currently at.