Mark Reviews Movies

We Are Your Friends


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Max Joseph

Cast: Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer, Jon Bernthal

MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, drug use, sexual content and some nudity)

Running Time: 1:36

Release Date: 8/28/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 27, 2015

A funny thing happened in between the time I watched We Are Your Friends and now, sitting down to write this review: Everything that seemed to be an issue has diminished in memory. There are definitely issues here, mostly to do with the screenplay's reliance on clichés to advance the characters where they need to go and the characters themselves, who don't have much definition beyond what point the story is trying to make. There comes a point in the film, though, when one might notice that director Max Joseph and editor Terel Gibson have tapped into some kind of hypnotic rhythm. Maybe the film really does achieve a form of hypnosis, and maybe that's the reason why that funny thing happened.

Whatever the reason, this newfound sense of perspective on the film reveals that it does touch upon some, mysterious something about the new norm of what life entails for that much-maligned Millennial Generation. If that certain something isn't novel, then it is at least honest. If it's not enthralling or eloquently communicated, it's definitely intriguing. Joseph, in his feature film debut as a director, does indeed tell his story with the kind of day-in-and-day-out tempo that illuminates the characters' feeling of malaise.

It is, as one character who comes from the previous generation puts it, "Millennial angst," brought about, in that character's diagnosis, by "too much validation." That might be right, and that might be why these younger characters' lives seem to go through a cycle of brief promise followed by much lengthier periods of disappointment and settling for the easy route.

They promote a local club to college students. One sells drugs to club-goers as his main source of income. At one point, all of them jump on board the staff of a predatory debt consolidation firm, where the employees have no clue what they're actually selling to people whose homes are in danger of foreclosure. All they know is that there's a nice paycheck and a substantial bonus waiting for them at the end of the week if they can convince enough people to agree to a deal that seems too good to be true.

For these characters, nothing is worth doing unless it's easy and the results are quickly attained. This isn't necessarily a flaw inherent within this particular generation, but it does say something about our values as a society. This is the way these characters have translated those values. Success is measured in dollars—not so much cents anymore. Only those who have reached the top of their field are genuinely successfully. It only takes one thing—a website, a cellphone application, a song—to attain that success.

These characters are waiting for that to happen. Surely it'll be handed to them while they're busy with the club, the drugs, and the mortgage scams.

Cole (Zac Efron) wants what his friends want, but unlike a couple of them, he has success in a specific field in mind. His buddy Mason (Jonny Weston), with whom Cole lives, seems to think that his promotional abilities will land him something great while he lives in his father's house, ignoring all the work that needs to be done there. Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez) wants to be a movie star, but he seems more concerned with his drug trade than going to auditions. Squirrel (Alex Shaffer) says a couple of times that he wants more out of life, but he doesn't even appear to know where to start. The screenplay by Joseph and Meaghan Oppenheimer is smart enough to see these guys as dead weight for Cole but wise enough to see the appeal of bonding over dissatisfaction.

Cole, meanwhile, is a DJ who spins records for any gig that presents itself, and during his substantial downtime, he composes electronic music, hoping to hit the big time with the one song that everyone loves. By chance, he strikes up a friendship with James (Wes Bentley), a successful DJ who has everything Cole could want out of life, including a girlfriend like Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski). James used to compose his own music, but he's fallen into the routine that success has granted him.

James is the character who says that line about "Millennial angst," but look at the course of his own life: Here's a man who got what he wanted, only to coast on his past accomplishments while drinking to numb the disappointment. He and those angsty Millennials have much more in common in regards to what he values than he would likely care to admit.

From here, the film really does simply follow the rhythm of these meandering lives, watching as Cole and Sophie get closer, Cole's buddies go through their owns routines, and James takes Cole under his wing. This is a film that does genuinely appreciate the creative process that arises from that last one. The guys talk shop (mostly in platitudes about finding one's voice), and Cole explains the physiological side of being a good DJ/composer by explaining how a spinner of records can manipulate a person's heartbeat by gradually raising the tempo in the music. It might sound cheesy, yet Efron's performance and Joseph's communication of these ideas are too sincerely felt for it not to work on some level.

That's pretty much the film in a nutshell. A lot of it sounds hackneyed (especially the inevitable consequences of that star-crossed romance and the way one character seems to exist just for a major dramatic turn), but there's something beneath the mechanics of this story and the trite chestnuts. We Are Your Friends tells a routine story, but it tells that story with flashes of insight and admirable conviction.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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