‘We Are Your Friends’ movie review: Zac Efron is an aspiring DJ in low-key drama

Zac Efron is an aspiring DJ hamstrung by an aimless San Fernando Valley lifestyle in We Are Your Friends, a surprisingly earnest and mostly authentic-feeling coming-of-age drama from first-time writer-director Max Joseph. 

A pulse-pounding soundtrack full of contemporary electronic hits, including the titular We Are Your Friends by Justice vs Simian, helps a great deal – ultimately, it’s one of the few reasons I might have for recommending the movie. 

The titular friends of twentysomething Cole Carter (Efron) are the bullish angry-young-man Mason (Johnny Weston), the enterprising drug dealer Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), and the introverted Squirrel (Alex Shaffer). The quartet pesters college campuses promoting Cole’s weekly gig at a local club. 

But they dream of better things – namely, escaping the Valley, despite it having the best sushi in the world. Cole currently crashes on Mason’s couch at his father’s home, and I liked how the film gave him absolutely no backstory outside of a single line of dialogue:

“My mom used to teach piano.”

“Does she still?”

An opportunity with a local real estate wheeler-dealer Paige Morrell (The Walking Dead’s Joe Bernthal) gives the kids a chance at some quick money by taking advantage of local residents who face foreclosure. 

These scenes come off as a kind of low-rent Wolf of Wall Street stuff – it doesn’t help that Bernthal had a similar role in that movie – and of course, the movie gives Cole an easy outlet to take the moral high ground. It’s the least effective section of the movie. 

But Cole ditches his friends throughout most of the flick – and seems to have left them behind for good by the ambiguous end. Instead, he hooks up with once-prominent DJ James Reed (Wes Bentley) and his more-than-assistant Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski). 

Reed shows Cole some of the DJ ropes with all his fancy equipment in a high-end studio, and even buys him a brand new MacBook. But a love triangle-type scenario involving Sophie threatens to hurt Cole’s potential collaboration with Reed. 

In the film’s best – if not exactly innovative – sequence, we witness the birth of Cole’s One Big Song, the one which comes from his heart and will rocket him to DJ stardom. 

Cole is always attached to his headphones, but when his iPad runs out of battery he takes a listen to the natural sounds around him… and whaddya know? It’s the birds and the breeze and the sounds of a nail gun pumping tiles into a roof that really inspire this young mind, and these are the samples he needs to create his masterpiece. 

Ratajkowski is apparently the hottest young thing on the market – an idea sold earlier this year in Entourage – after shooting to fame by gyrating in Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines music video. We Are Your Friends shares more than a few similarities to Entourage, and clearly audiences aren’t digging it.

We Are Your Friends managed an impressive feat at the US box office, taking in 1.8 million at 2,333 cinemas – that’s the fourth-lowest opening ever for a film debuting on more than 2,000 screens. (The only films that beat it? Last year’s 10th anniversary re-release of Saw, Delgo, and Oogieloves In The BIG Balloon Adventure, which, yes, is a real movie.)  

This one deserves a little better. Give it a whirl if you’re into the music.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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