‘We Are Your Friends’ Film Review: A Feel-Good Zac Efron DJ Dance Party for the iGeneration
“We Are Your Friends” is an iGeneration (the one after millennials) update of the 38-year-old “Saturday Night Fever,” with current tween heartthrob Zac Efron DJing, instead of ’70s teen heartthrob John Travolta discoing.
Or, since iGens are not familiar with white-suited Travolta doing the index-finger dance that defined disco-cheese (but was endlessly cool in ’77)—let’s call “We Are Your Friends” a San Fernando Valley version of “Entourage” with Efron in the Vincent Chase role. Because it’s actually a lot of both.
All Three Movies Have Four Bros
So, there are four Valley bros who couldn’t or wouldn’t go to college. DJing wannabe Cole (Efron), actor-wannabe Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), big-deal chaser Mason (Jonny Weston), and Squirrel (Alex Shaffer) in the Turtle role from “Entourage,” (and the Bobby C. role in “Saturday Night Fever”).
They party-promote at college campuses, and manage to make that look like a non-desperate, fun thing to do, sort of like one imagines it must have been for Guns N’ Roses’ Slash, skateboarding around, postering neighborhoods for upcoming GNR gigs. Which is already 30 years ago, iGens—time may be speeding up, but cultural America is pretty much as it was in the late-’70s.
Soon we’re at the club the boys shill for (just like Saturday Night’s “2001 Odyssey”) except it’s a Hollywood rave called Social, where young Cole meets Sophie, a stunning Stanford dropout (Emily Ratajkowski). Sparks fly, but it goes nowhere … yet. Then he bumps into the somewhat older James Reed, a star DJ (a hip, bearded Wes Bentley).
Cole and James hit it off, bro up, have a smoke, hit a party. Unbeknownst to Cole, smokin’ Sophie is James’s assistant. Among other things. Can you guess the rest of the movie?
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young DJ
By now (via voiceover) Cole has already schooled us about how you gain success in the rarefied atmosphere of world-class DJs like Deadmau5, Skrillex, Tiesto, David Guetta, and Avicii: “All you need is a laptop, some talent, and one track.”
Sure—how hard could it be, right? Tiesto only makes $22 million a year. But Cole’s one track does get him a listen from James, who’s obviously going to mentor him. James throws Cole a DJ bone; a pool-party gig at his Brentwood digs, and as the mentor-mentee relationship progresses, eventually starts prepping him for a DJ debutante ball at a summer music festival.
He Blinded Them With Science
It’s at the pool party we get a further lesson in the art of the DJ: working the crowd. “Gotta get ’em outta their heads and into their bodies,” says Cole. Apparently it’s also a science, all about heartbeats per minute. “You wanna get the crowd’s heart-rate at 120 bpm.”
We learn reggae is 60 bpm, dubstep’s at 70, house music is 110–130, and hardcore’s at 195 bpm (“How do you dance to that?”). So the DJ locks onto to the crowd’s rhythm. “And then, when you get them up to 128—you control the entire circulation system.”
How scary is that? This is actually interesting. It’s got visuals too, which are like bad computer generated imagery on TV’s “Crime Scene Investigation,” (bad CGI on CSI). All accompanied by the demonstrative gyrations of lovely Sophie-who-ditched-Stanford. Which is sort of like a poolside dance version of the airline stewardess instructional spiel. I feel I learned something.
What’s the Message?
Zac Efron’s the message. Quite the young, wholesome, integrity-projecting, dream-boat movie star. Many young female iGens will pay homage, and will care less about the integrity of director Max Joseph’s portrayal of the EDM milieu—especially the attempt to capture the essence and integrity of true artistry (art in general and DJ art in particular) and prefer to simply bask in Efron’s blonde dreaminess, not to mention Ratajkowski’s brunette version.
All My Chill Friends
Or perhaps “All My Headphones.” Because “We Are Your Friends” is really a big-screen soap opera—all beautiful people, all the time, and how they like to wear very small bathing suits and jump up and down near swimming pools to 128 bpm. And take selfies and wee videos of this jumping about.
You know it’s an iGen film because all the very young-looking people involved are techno-savvy and Instagram-skilled in the showbiz-originated art of self-promotion, with the precocious, institutional cynicism of their warp-speed generation.
Even so, it’s early days yet; it’s still the time in young lives before the true cynicism of having actually tried to make it as an artist in America, for years, on a steady diet of rejection, has set in. There’s still a sweet naiveté at work here, with everyone hustling and following their bliss, at various points working the kind of tempting, lucrative day job (read morally reprehensible widow-bilking mortgage company) that can shackle all but the most driven artists with “golden handcuffs.”
So What’s the Problem?
None, really. It’s a feel-good movie, what more do you want from it? Well, for it to have been great, it would’ve needed better production value in the details; bad CGI as mentioned, but also the party scene that rips off Richard Linklater’s rotoscoped ground-breaker, “Waking Life.” This has a poor man’s version of that trippy, cartoon-y imagery, meant to visualize for us a PCP state of mind.
But more than all that, it needed an absolute killer soundtrack, with dance music that controlled the movie audience’s entire circulation system.
More on Artistry
There’s a whole bit about finding one’s signature sound by avoiding canned computer ones, and recording real-world things like buddy Mason’s roofing nail-gun and Sophie’s sweater zipper. Which is reminiscent of a description of such “authenticity” in Keith Richards’s autobiography “Life,” about the making of the ur-Rolling Stone hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Richards recorded it on an el-cheapo, dinky cassette deck in the middle of the night (along with a couple hours of him snoring)—his Richard-sian, signature 5-string guitar tuning filtered through a prototype distortion box. Result? A never before heard original sound, that probably comes very close to what the lust-demon sounds like when it tells you it just can’t ever be satisfied. Which is exactly what Jagger–Richards were going for.
Yep. The boomer generation had James Brown, who begat the funk, without which electronic dance music (EDM) would never have come into existence. Boomers had rock music before it got named “classic,” but iGen’s have dance moves Travolta’s Tony Manero never dreamed of. Still, all the classic muscle cars of the ’70s—Mustang, Camero, Challenger, Barracuda, and GTO—are all making a comeback. And why is that, iGens? Because American coolness was founded in the boomer ’60s and ’70s. Everything else is just iCoolness. But we’ve gotten side-tracked …
A hipper, grittier movie involving the storytelling of the actual music-making, more along the lines of “Hustle & Flow,” that would have had the audience hitting up iTunes on iPhones immediately following the iCredit-roll to download the album—would have been a true iGen summer music-iBlockbuster. But provided you don’t out-and-out hate EDM—and you have tweens—”We Are Your Friends” is good watchin’.
‘We Are Your Friends’
Director: Max Joseph
Starring: Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Shiloh Fernandez, Jonny Weston, Alex Shaffer
Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
Release Date: August 28
3 stars out of 5