‘We Are Your Friends’ spins its wheels

A by-the-numbers coming-of-age story about chasing success in California.

By Bobby Ceresia | Sept. 2, 2015

Tags: Movies Reviews

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“We Are Your Friends” is a coming-of-age story about a group of early-20s burnouts living in the San Fernando Valley who try anything to make some money so they can be famous and live the good life.

Zac Efron plays Cole, an aspiring DJ who could be “one of the greats.” He meets a famous spinner with drug issues named James, played by Wes Bentley from “Inception” and “Ghost Rider.” James takes Cole under his wing and teaches him to be his own artist rather than try to imitate the best. But Cole falls for James’ stunning girlfriend, Sophie, played by supermodel Emily Ratajkowski, and Cole starts going behind James’ back to be with her. Cole and his friends go on drug-fueled benders, Cole learns to be his own musician and they all live happily ever after.

Like “The Man From U.N.C.L.E,” the last film I reviewed, “We Are Your Friends” suffers from a truly awful title that makes little sense even after seeing the movie. The friendship between Cole and his three other burnout buddies serves little purpose other than to move the plot along. There is more focus on the awkward love triangle than on the so-called “friends” featured on every poster and trailer for the film. All they do is move Cole to different locations and setups, which leads to a main flaw of the film — audiences will know what is going to happen with each scene long before the characters in the movie do, and it becomes a waiting game for the plot to catch up.

The group meet a sleazy-looking businessman selling insurance and making millions who offers all of them jobs, even though none of them went to college. I wonder if he will end up being corrupt?

Cole starts off the film wanting to sound like everyone else, but his instructor tells him to make his music into his own. I wonder if he will play a big performance at the end using his own music?

Zac Efron and Emily Ratajkowski, two incredibly attractive human beings, are not supposed to be together because of an alcoholic boyfriend. I wonder if she will break up with him and get with Efron and his massive arms? There is an actual line in the script after the two hook up where Sophie says that their sex was “inevitable,” and I was thinking the same thing. The overall message of the film is to be your own artist, yet “We Are Your Friends” follows the same plot points audiences have seen a hundred times in other, better films.

The predictable plot could have been saved if the performances were good enough to sell me, but it felt like none of the actors cared. Every actor in the group of friends other than Efron is a cartoon character: the angry one watches lions fighting on TV and growls along with them while saying lines like “Don’t bro me if you don’t know me;” the cool one wears leather jackets and gets everyone involved with drugs; and the innocent one gives life advice to Efron before dying young. On a side note, they all fit into the character tropes from “The Outsiders,” which was written 50 years ago, so if these characters sound familiar, it’s probably because you have seen them before.

These poor performances are acceptable for relatively minor characters, but what about the main characters? Bentley is fine, playing a drug-addicted alcoholic, believably enough. Efron looks pretty bored, but he looks like a raging Nicolas Cage compared to the emotionless performance of Ratajkowski. Her character had a lot to deal with, from sad break-ups to joking around to frustrated arguing, but Ratajkowski never breaks her boring monotone and keeps the same face through it all. Her disinterest kept me disinterested, and that is a shame because the director did produce a few golden moments.

In one scene, Cole accidentally takes PCP at an art museum party and the paint drips off the paintings and attaches to the attendants at the party. The rotoscope effect looked unique and stylish and added some personality to the film. In another part, Efron breaks the fourth wall to teach the audience about how different parts of a song break down, explaining beats per minute and bass drops with diagrams and quick edits.

Most of the movie draws comparisons to other, better films, but these parts offered potential for director Max Joseph’s future projects. As for his current project, it would be better to spend time with your actual friends doing almost anything else but seeing “We Are Your Friends.”

MOVE gives “We Are Your Friends” two out of five stars

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