“Grossly adolescent” is the best way to sum up Max Joseph’s feature film directorial debut, We Are Your Friends. But just like “gross” income isn’t actually gross, Joseph’s film about a group of friends trying to make money and be something better is not necessarily rotten.
The film tells the story of Cole Carter (played by Zac Efron), a college dropout whose best friends Mason, Squirrel and Ollie want to jump over the Hollywood Hills and out of the San Fernando Valley to a life that doesn’t involve sleeping on the floor at Mason’s house and riding around town in Squirrel’s station wagon.
The group explicitly touts Cole as a DJ on the rise to stardom and implicitly lauds him as their ticket out of the valley. Cole prioritizes his craft, which leads him to meet a formerly legendary DJ named James Reed (played by Wes Bentley) and his much younger assistant-turned-girlfriend, Sophie (played by Emily Ratajkowski). After a falling out between the two over the wayward Sophie, James’ penchant for organically produced sound ultimately lands Cole the gig of a lifetime in Los Angeles.
A nightclub-worthy soundtrack weaves the film’s scenes together, as do creative special effects and enjoyable dialogue that’s characteristic of college dropouts down on their luck.
What the film lacks, though, is focus. Joseph said he wanted to make a film “about kids graduating from high school or college and moving on with their lives,” and while that may be a part of it, We Are Your Friends feels more like a mashup of several other possibilities that could have been something better on their own.
One thread is the chemistry and feeling of being in “the golden years” between Cole and his pals. Another is that of the formerly artistically devoted but now financially motivated James Reed.
None of these threads are explored to the point of satisfaction.
For one thing, it’s never shown or even explained what exactly makes James a sellout, which is a shame since Cole and James fight each other over it in a strip club bathroom. Furthermore, even though the title of the film is We Are Your Friends, the time spent with the buds feels secondary to Cole, and by extension, secondary to the plot.
The sudden departure of one of the four friends, in fact, comes so out of left-field that its purported effect on Cole doesn’t even feel real.
Ratajkowski’s role as Cole’s love interest also feels tacked on; Cole would have still developed the same way as a character had she not been there.
Then again, being unfocused yet enjoyable may be the film’s greatest virtue. Being in your early 20s involves lots of distractions, and Joseph himself compared the film to “throwing a party. You set it all up but you invite people to the party and they each bring something.”
Joseph chose a predictable production as his first feature but ensured that it was done right. Making a feature film is no easy feat and even Joseph claimed that the production “didn’t have a lot of money” and “didn’t have a lot of time.” He was blessed with the collaborative readiness of the actors and music talent for the film but cursed with the plot of a glorified glimpse into the world of DJ-ing that isn’t very moving.
Ultimately, the movie serves a purpose as a guilty pleasure flick worth watching for the occasional comedy nailed by Cole and his pals, the eye candy provided by Efron and Ratajkowski and the pounding electronic soundtrack that Joseph so valued during the film’s production.