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REVIEW — “We Are Your Friends”

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An energetic cast, creative visuals and a pulsing soundtrack can’t make the title convincing in the DJ drama, “We Are Your Friends.”

Directed by Max Joseph (MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show), the film follows budding EDM DJ and wannabe producer, Cole (Zac Efron) living and partying with his four buddies in San Fernando Valley, CA.

The talent of the group, Cole believes all he needs is a laptop, some talent and one track. He has two out of three. The outfit spend their days booking Cole gigs at a local club by promoting their events to college girls – promising them the best night of their lives. “99% of the population is looking for a party, and 1% is the party.” They all want to be the party that doesn’t end, because they know once it does, the hangover of reality sets in.

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Several scenes position the four friends atop a hill overlooking their city so they can reflect from above on their unfortunate place in the world. Desperate to get out of the Valley, Cole is trying to write that one hit track that will propel him to the next level, but he is too easily distracted by his group of coattail-riding friends. Seriously, these guys make the d-bags of Entourage look like The Golden Girls.

Cole’s group of friends refer to themselves as “entrepreneurs” as a way of legitimizing their reckless hustle. Cole’s unofficial manager, Mason (Jonny Weston), is a punk with a temper (albeit a fiercely loyal one to those within his crew, and just as abrasive to those without). “Don’t bro me if you don’t know me,” he likes to say with a glare. Relax, bro.

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Aspiring actor and casual drug-dealer, Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), ropes Cole and the gang into running cold calls for a foreclosure support scam run by the ruthless Paige (Jon Bernthal) and then guilts Cole for having a conscience about preying on the misfortune of others.

These so-called “friends” have unlikable, embarrassing and dependent personalities. The same can’t be said for the shy and geeky, Squirrel (Alex Shaffer), the lowest man on the group’s totem pole. The most sincere and earnest of Cole’s friends (whose inclusion in the group can only be because of his access to his mom’s car), Squirrel looks up to the other guys with little-brother adulation, but is treated more like a pet than an equal.

Cole is a means to their end. They support him in his quest to become a successful DJ right up until his talent outgrows them and he gets the opportunity to shadow someone who can actually advance his career. If all these aimless hangers-on do is waste his time with drugs, drinks and drama, then who can blame him for ditching them repeatedly throughout the film?

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During one of the crew’s many nights at the club, Cole connects with the hypnotically beautiful Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) while listening to the established DJ James Reed (Wes Bentley) perform. After sharing a smoke outside, James invites Cole to accompany him to an art show that features one of the film’s most visually creative elements involving an animated PCP-trip dance party.

The damaged and disillusioned character of James is the most real and fleshed out. Bentley is hilarious and delivers the best lines as Cole’s jaded mentor. He teaches Cole to unplug and start listening to the world around him. “Sound has soul,” he advises. Because of James’ generous guidance, Cole begins to mature and fall for not only the organic beauty of sound but also for James’ assistant/live-in girlfriend (Surprise, it’s Sophie!! Remember? From the club?). Sure James turns into an arrogant drunk who doesn’t appreciate Sophie, but he always remains a gracious host by continuing to take Cole under his wing – even after Cole and Sophie’s predictable and inevitable romantic betrayal.

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The validity of “We Are Your Friends” depends on who is making that assertion. Is it Mason attempting to remind Cole where he comes from? Is it Ollie arguing that Cole will never succeed without them? Is it James welcoming Cole to the top of the hill? The lack of convincing friends in Cole’s life has me leaning to the latter. Real friends don’t use each other for personal gain. They don’t hold each other back out of fear of facing their own failures. They don’t let jealousy or envy compromise their relationship. At least James recognizes Cole’s flaws as his own.

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“We Are Your Friends” reminds us to check our pulse but never stop moving, to listen to our own beating heart and let it guide us to what we’re meant to be. It’s easy to settle for what life hands you, and it’s easy to let doubt and discouragement creep in – especially when surrounded by haters that claim to be friends.

The commonly-shared fear of peaking early in life is genuinely expressed by Squirrel late in the film, giving Cole clarity and the final inspiration he needs to finish his track.

“Are we ever gonna be better than this?”

The film ponders that question, but offers no answer.

So let me take a crack at it:

Yes, you can always better yourself, especially if you have the support of real friends.

But with friends like these? No, not so much. 3/5

“We Are Your Friends” is now in theaters nationwide.

wayf_5All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

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