Good performances, confident direction, and a fantastically rousing final scene help to bring this beyond the formulaic plot and undercooked themes.
This is a film that begins with Zac Efron, sat at his desk clicking away on GarageBand. We see the back of his immensely pretty head. It is unmitigated in its mundanity, but so is the track he’s creating. Later on we see and hear everything he’s taking from the world around him, so-called “organic” sounds, recording them and laying them down. This is all montage, it’s colourful, sounds great, and is full of motion. Where the intro is like watching a dead serious computer instructional video from the 90s, these later scenes are essentially really great music videos, for really great dance tracks.
Efron stars as Cole Carter, living in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, the wrong side of the Hollywood hills. Through Cole’s unsatisfying job as a small-time DJ/promoter he befriends James Reed (Wes Bentley), a once great DJ who begins to mentor him in the creation of truly great music, rather than simple imitations. But Cole’s attraction to James’ girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) as well as his challenging relationship with his friends (stuck in the same dead-end jobs as Cole) threaten to thwart his ambition.
Given that it’s titled after the Justice vs. Simian classic club track, which features prominently in the early sequences, this risks slipping into a film whose only merit is the soundtrack. However director Max Joseph isn’t satisfied making a film devoid of personality, bringing several smartly cut and shot sequences. One particularly brilliant scene of PCP induced fun sees paintings come to life. None of this is original, and Joseph pushes his touches too far when dialogue flashes up onto the screen in huge pastel text. But these techniques are used sparingly, and help the film come to life. The reduction in this invention in the latter half is disappointing but Joseph prefers to let these effects speak for the story.
It’s a story with classical motives driving actions, in a modern setting. Lust and love, addiction, ambition, frustration at the sudden halt of life as youth morphs into adulthood. The problems come into being when the plot that these have been formed around is so formulaic it could have been pulled from a Step Up film. On top of that, Cole’s friends all are either unlikeable or completely formulaic that it’s a miracle their story manages to work at all. The fact that it does is thanks to both Joseph’s lively direction, and effective performances.
Efron continues to be charismatic and likeable despite a relentless knack for being insanely fit, while Bentley is entirely compelling as the has-been DJ, wringing all the drama he can out of the best lines (just listen to his enunciation of “irreparable”). And Ratajkoski clearly loves playing Sophie, and displays a natural likeability that serves her well. If the script liked the character as much as she did, she would have a far more interesting story. Pleasingly though, considering the setting and style, objectification is thin on the ground, so Joseph should really be applauded for that at least.
We Are Your Friends (2015), directed by Max Joseph, is distributed in the UK by Studio Canal. Certificate 15.