The Drive-In Theater: We Are Your Friends

The Drive-In Theater returns with an examination of We Are Your Friends, the Zac Efron rave movie.
By    May 16, 2016

WAYF

Will Schube convinced Skrillex to give “this dubstep thing” a shot. 

A self-serious EDM movie about rave culture in which Zac Efron is the most likable character in his friend group. What could go wrong?

We Are Your Friends takes its title from a blog-house song circa 2008. It was written and directed by Max Joseph, who worked on that movie Catfish. I never saw Catfish, but that little nugget of information probably tells you a lot about what this movie is trying to accomplish. Either writer/director Max Joseph is ruthlessly trolling the only audience that would maybe take this movie seriously (I need a venn diagram of humans and then humans who saw both this and the Entourage movie…has anyone who’s seen one not seen then other?), or he thinks Efron, a pulsing four-on-the-floor soundtrack, and Emily Ratajkowski will unite bros everywhere from now until kingdom come.

We Are Your Friends: 'plenty to like'.

We Are Your Friends as the great equalizer. Who doesn’t want to meet a hot girl by the ferris wheel at a Vegas rave and launch into the desert heat strapped to your Molly Jetpack™?

For every ridiculous avenue this movie tries to go down, there’s nothing sillier than its plot. Imagine the pitch meeting! EDM superstar hopeful is backed by his crew of schemers and fighters. These are kids from the mean streets of The Valley. Remember those guys in Boogie Nights that beat up Dirk Diggler after that dude in his truck watches Diggler jerk off? Cole (Efron) and his friends are the sons of those guys. Expect maybe Efron and Squirrel (Alex Shaffer) stop them halfway through, because they’re supposed to be the good ones in the gang. Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez) seems weird, mostly because he’s a half-developed character who quits the crew to go full-time at a predatory real estate firm. And stick with me, because this subplot is absolutely batshit.

The gang (rounded out by Mason [Jonny Weston], the intolerable idiot of a friend we all have who has his toes dipped in a million worthless, shallow pools) supplements their dreams of stardom by working at this real estate company that lies to its clients about saving their foreclosed upon homes and then buys them back for significantly less money than they’re worth.

Max Joseph uses this cruel business to associate Cole with the moral good, and potentially, his friends, as the deterrent to his success. He flips out at his boss once and that’s the end of that. Cole is good. Amoral people are bad. This subplot is phenomenally un-nuanced and weirdly political. No better time to comment on the housing crisis than halfway through a movie about rave culture, right? If you want an actual worthwhile film on the predatory nature of the housing crisis, I highly recommend 99 Homes. It’s great. And the entire movie is about the crisis, not just a 15 minute interlude to situate the protagonist as a good dude.

Cole gets taken as a mentee by washed up EDM star James (Wes Bentley) who teaches him about the power of music! Remember, EDM isn’t about pressing play while 16 year-olds lose their shit on more uppers than you can imagine. It’s is about people—together, connecting. It’s about the power of community, and in this case, community is rich white people dancing by a pool. But things fall apart. And this thing in particular falls apart when Cole has sex with James’ sometimes girlfriend/all times assistant, Sophie, who’s played by Ratajkowski. Cole and Sophie take Molly at an EDC rave in Vegas, go back to a preposterously large suite for two twenty-somethings without steady jobs, and then Sophie dances while Cole plays the piano. Go-to foreplay for Molly sex, so I hear.

For all of its bumbling and stumbling, We Are Your Friends has a few cool moments. Cole and James smoke PCP (only James does so knowingly) and then go to a party where everyone turns into a cartoon. This trick can be pulled off in a number of horrible ways, but Max Joseph does a decent enough job with it.

Cole  also exercises a lot, which is funny because he sprints really fast for a long time, which doesn’t seem possible. As for other interesting filmic moments, I’m drawing a blank. So maybe there’s only one cool stylistic trick in this movie.

WAYF III

The film ends with Cole playing a festival and debuting the new track he’s created—using life experiences (remember, EDM is a breathing, living thing!) as samples. Flashbacks litter the screen. It’s hard not to laugh as Efron diligently records his friend using a nail gun or dropping a coin. It’s all sloppy, silly, and cheesy as all hell. But when the track peaks the crowd loses their shit and I’m left wondering what he’s gonna play after the one song he’s ever produced concludes.

We Are Your Friends reminds me of Spring Breakers, if Spring Breakers didn’t know it was satirizing the world it depicted. We Are Your Friends ends and I was confused how the movie was both not as bad as I expected and still very bad. It somehow sets its bar so low that it can’t help but succeed on that diminished level. And then I recalled that the movie is named after a Justice remix from 2008 and that I spent 100 minutes of my life watching Zac Efron pump his fist. Can’t win ‘em all.

Rating: If you value time and/or self worth, hard no. If you’re like me…eh, you could do worse things with your day.