We Are Your Friends Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski. Directed by Max Joseph. Rated R. Opens Friday.
Given how big an industry DJs and EDM have become, it’s sort of surprising that there aren’t more movies like We Are Your Friends, a dopey rags-to-riches story that uses the EDM scene as its generic backdrop. The movie might not be a spot-on representation of DJ culture (see sidebar), but it serves as a surprisingly effective portrait of LA’s San Fernando Valley, the suburban expanse where aspiring DJ/producer Cole Carter (Zac Efron) and his friends live while dreaming of vague success.
At first, WAYF is set up like an EDM version of Entourage, with Cole’s friends ready to ride his coattails as his DJ career slowly starts to take off. But then the focus shifts to Cole’s relationship with his mentor, veteran DJ James Reed (Wes Bentley), and James’ assistant/girlfriend Sophie (pouty, robotic model Emily Ratajkowski), whom Cole predictably falls for. There’s also a heavy-handed subplot about Cole and his bros working for a shady real-estate investor (Jon Bernthal) to make some extra cash, which serves mainly to give Cole a third-act wake-up call about doing the right thing (the cheap death of a minor character serves the same purpose, even more shamelessly).
Efron is affable but not particularly believable as a talented musician, and his friends are mostly one-dimensional dudes who say things like “Don’t bro me if you don’t know me.” Bentley brings a little more weight to his role as a seen-it-all second-stringer who never quite made it to the A-list, but his potential character depth gets pushed aside in favor of more soul-searching and shirtlessness from Efron.
Director and co-writer Max Joseph (best known as one of the hosts of MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show) adds occasional visual flair, with onscreen text and graphics that sometimes come off like in-movie promos for the movie itself, but sometimes work in tandem with the music to create cool little interludes (there’s even a brief trip to Vegas for EDC). In general, WAYF would probably work better as a series of music videos, focusing on attractive bodies, snappy edits and pretty effects, and ignoring the vapid characters and paper-thin plot entirely.