Like a mixed CD one of your pals might make you over the Summer, there’s a lot of heart, and even some great moments in Zac Efron’s new EDM movie, but it goes without saying that the output is going to appeal more to its creator than the recipient.
In this case, it’s extremely clear that co-writer/director Max Joseph (MTV’s “Catfish”) has not only far-reaching, weighty knowledge of the electronic dance music scene. From the patois to the way his libretto talks about a song as if it was the backend of Rachel McAdams, and the mechanics of what makes a good set, the tyro director definitely knows his stuff. But like overhearing an inside joke between best friends at a cigarette dispensing machine in a club, you likely won’t get it like he does.
Having said that, everyone loves a good tune, and most of us can all appreciate the struggle and plight of being an ambitious but society-stunted twenty-something, so when Joseph and co-writer Meaghan Oppenheimer lay down the needle, you’re happy to listen – and as the track continues, and you get more familiar with and its journey, you might possibly even find yourself more and more taken with it than expected.
A mix-up sesh of recent dance-music winner “Eden” and poppy ode-to-excess “54”, “We Are Your Friends” features Zac Efron’s six-pack (no, in all honesty, he’s actually a pretty fine actor – in the least, he’s charming) as a San Fernando teenager who spends his nights working – for free – spinning discs at a club. While his friends are off somewhere in the club chasing skirt, ‘Cole Carter’ comes upon the club’s no.1 music-spinner, James (Wes Bentley). After spending the night shadowing the older and more experienced James around a party, Cole finds himself taken under his wing – where the former tries to help the ambitious Cole hone in his skills.
Meanwhile, Cole falls for James’ assistant/girlfriend, played by super-shexy model Emily Ratajowski, who we’re reminded isn’t just a token music-loving tart, she actually went to Stanford and speaks like she’s been polishing Tony Hopkins’ chest knobs over at Merchant-Ivory. Alas, we all know where that relationship is going… and what the fall out will be. But who cares… there’s great music cued up for their love scene.
Ironically, since it’s such a vital and ostensibly so carefully-constructed element of the film, the relationship between Efron and Ratajowski just doesn’t click. Either the duo lack the chemistry to convince the audience of their speedy, blossoming love affair or she’s just not convincing – she does, after all, look and sound like she’s just walked off the catwalk – as a supposedly average, almost invisible college dropout whose trying to find her way. One could likely say the same for her co-star, what with his chiseled good looks and undeniable movie star charm, but Efron’s clearly a more accomplished actor, because he passes as a slacker – in fact, he’s damn near very good in a few scenes, particularly towards the end. You believe he’s on that journey.
A better mix than Efron and the abnormally-gorgeous female is the Skywalker-Yoda unit that the former and Wes Bentley make up. As the seasoned DJ who “was once good”, Bentley (who time has been very kind to; he doesn’t look more than a month older than he did in his ‘90s breakthrough “American Beauty”), completely embodying the likeable, wayward party man, and Efron, playing up his character’s vulnerability and youth, make for an interesting and very entertaining twosome. Their scenes really work well.
While the script is somewhat hokey, and it’s as predictable as a cat near a pond, it’s all undeniably quite engaging. In some respects, it feels like you’ve been popped a roofie. You’re into it….and you don’t quite know why. Maybe it’s that it comes across intelligent and isn’t afraid to detour from the norm and go a little dark? Maybe it’s the music, which had it sucked would’ve obviously derailed the movie? Or maybe it’s Ms Ratajowski’s spellbinding, loose-buttoned dance in a party scene?
In capping, you won’t likely have it on loop or repeat but there’s enough highs – The performances are infused with passion (Bentley is especially enjoyable to watch, proving yet again that he’s able to jump from and convince in diverse role to diverse role without even the need of a makeup artist) and the story, though a little thinnish on guts and originality, is engrossing enough to delay a toilet break – in “We Are Your Friends”* to get you satisfyingly temporarily cinematically bent.
* But Jesus!, Efron, please speak up about the ‘titles’ of the movies you’re doing! They suck! From “At Any Price” to “That Awkward Moment/Are We Officially Dating”, and now this (Even “Wired for Sound” would’ve put more bums on seats!) it’s like they’re throwing title duties to whoever is left at the Bingo Hall at midnight on a Thursday!