Much like the film industry, music has changed along with the evolution of technology. The content has changed, and the way that we access it has also greatly been affected. An example is electronic music, especially when streaming it through various online platforms. It's a bit surprising that Hollywood has taken as long as it has to make a motion picture about this music scene that has taken over the current generation of listeners. Warner Bros. is tackling the DJ scene with We Are Your Friends, which was directed and co-written by MTV's Catfish producer and host, Max Joseph. Given that this is his debut into the world of features, he manages to display that he has some skill behind the camera, but the screenplay is primarily what leaves much to be desired.
After meeting a world famous DJ, Cole (Zac Efron) finds himself caught between a forbidden romance with the beautiful Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) and a loyalty that he has created with his friends. He has the dream of becoming the next big DJ, but has a lot of work in getting there. This is a coming-of-age story within the framework of the incredibly competitive music industry where everybody wants to be a DJ.
With a title like We Are Your Friends, our attention is immediately drawn to Cole's social circle. Oddly, this is the least developed aspect of the entire film. As tension begins to escalate, the audience is asked to feel rather deep emotions for characters that were never actually established. They're all one-dimensional individuals who never come close to drawing a connection with viewers. Joseph and co-writer Meaghan Oppenheimer ask for an abundance of undeserved emotional moments that make for a coming-of-age story that consistently feels out of tune. We Are Your Friends makes constant references to Cole's group of friends and living situation in the San Fernando Valley, yet both are tremendously underplayed. He doesn't feel like a product of his environment like the film appears to be reaching for, but feels unnatural in his own skin. The characters simply aren't well-composed, as it misses numerous opportunities when it comes to establishing roles that the audience will genuinely care about.
A large amount of We Are Your Friends involves the dramatic elements created in DJ James' (Wes Bentley) household. While he appears to have it all, trouble is bound to find its way to the paradise that seems to be in the form of his relationship with his assistant, Sophie. Cole's feelings for her only complicate things further, but it ultimately causes the film to fall victim to mediocrity. If Joseph and Oppenheimer weren't exploring a world that is rarely seen from Hollywood studios, this would be just another generic coming-of-age flick that would inevitably find its way to your local DVD/Blu-ray bargain bin. Not only are the dramatic elements predictable and bland, but they take time away from the world of the DJ, which is the entire reason one would want to see this in the first place. Perhaps this is an attempt at gaining a bit of a "sexier" plot, but it had plenty to work with before introducing all of these rather lame sub-plots that really don't serve much of a purpose.
One can't discuss Max Joseph's feature debut without talking about the music. Regardless of whether or not you support the picture's dramatic offerings, your level of enjoyment truly depends upon how you feel about the electronic music scene. Do you find yourself bobbing your head to the beats in the club or do you simply cringe at the very thought of digital tunes? Depending upon your feelings towards this topic, you may very well have your answer as to whether or not you should spend the ticket price to see this on the big screen. I happen to fall somewhere in the middle, as I simply don't think one way or the other about the genre at hand. This left me feeling ambivalent about the entire experience that really should have spent more time exploring the craziness - and perhaps the misconceptions - of this particular music scene that has become such a big deal around the world. However, those who are looking for some big bass drops at the cinema will be satisfied with the few that can be found. Otherwise, We Are Your Friends doesn't truly dive into the subject matter in a way that changes anything, but it does manage to remain consistently entertaining.
Moving past the troubled screenplay, Max Joseph does a reasonably good job behind the camera. Despite some extreme close-ups that can get a bit too intrusive, he has captured youth in a way that's visually appealing and absorbing. The film is often bright, colorful, and full of energy. There's some smart use of animation that intertwines with the live-action elements rather well. One of the most successful moments that the movie has to offer is when Cole explains the thought process behind certain types of dance music, and how to get a crowd moving. It's enthralling, fresh, and relevant. It answers the questions of what makes me move, and why? It manages to do that in a way that looks extremely fitting, as well. All of the music is mixed incredibly well in order to deliver some tracks that surely gets every ounce of bass out of each speaker in the theater.
With Zac Efron in the lead role, We Are Your Friends is bound to gain the attention of plenty of young women. Fortunately, he delivers a fairly decent performance here. However, it's the screenplay that ultimately doesn't sync with the rest of the film. The remainder of the pieces, including the directing and the visual style, are successful in the story that's being told. It's a shame that writers Joseph and Oppenheimer failed to focus on the most interesting aspects of the story. Rather than focusing on the bland melodrama that can be found between Cole and any given character, we could have received a genuinely engaging look at a music scene and how this DJ's success affects his life with his friends. The main reason why the dramatic elements are so wrong is that the film primarily works off of unearned emotions that are pushed into the faces of the audience. We Are Your Friends might have the beats-per-minute to keep us entertained, but it's lacking a distinct signature style that sets it apart from the rest. Rent it.