Swingers isn’t really about swing dancing, Magic Mike isn’t really about male stripping, and Inside Llewyn Davis isn’t really about folk. The best coming-of-age films set in a particular subculture evoke coming-of-age feelings so well that you almost forget the subculture. We Are Your Friends is almost kind of like those movies, but then it remembers it’s supposed to be about EDM (Electronic Dance Music) again, which becomes its albatross. An albatross made of puffy headphones.
Which is to say, We Are Your Friends might be a pretty great movie if you unhitched it from the inevitable scene of Zac Efron triumphantly remixing bleep blorp loops before an audience of coked up teenyboppers who wouldn’t know if they were listening to Mozart or the sound a of robot murdering a goat. Such is the inherently uncinematic nature of a sexy Ken Doll in a $30 t-shirt pressing buttons on his laptop, no matter how intensely he sweats and stares while doing it. That’s just not a vision of success I can root for.
Not that director Max Joseph doesn’t work his ass off trying to make striving for DJ stardom seem universal. In fact he probably deserves a medal (maybe just bottle service). We Are Your Friends is so sporadically great outside of the scenes of actual DJing that it makes you wonder what could’ve been.
Zac Efron is tolerable as Cole Carter, an average-but-beautiful bro from the San Fernando Valley who could’ve gone to UC Davis on a track scholarship, if only he wasn’t so antsy to change the world with his sick beats. “College is a waste of time,” he says. So it is that he ends up living in his best bro Mason’s pool house, promoting shows at Social every Thursday, always looking for that ticket out of the valley. Which they acknowledge as kind of a sh*tty dirt hole but take a sort of kitsch pride in (sort of a parallel with the way the movie treats electronic music as a whole).
Efron will say a line like “Things are different for us. You can invent an app, start a blog, sell things online…” and you’ll want to ban millennials forever (and I say this as someone who literally started a blog), but there’s something timeless and deeply truthful about the idea of being from a sh*tty place that you sort of hate, but still stick up for when outsiders put it down. That this timelessness and cheap trend pimping coexist in the same movie is the frustrating dichotomy of We Are Your Friends.
Unquestionably, the runaway stars of the film are Emily Ratajkowski’s breasts and Futurebeard from The Hunger Games, aka Wes Bentley. The former show up in a variety of forms, from tasteful sweater to tantalizingly low-cut top to a sheer-except-for-a-black-rectangle-across-the-mid-boob-area rave outfit that shows off both the sides and underneath of the boobs, while also backless to emphasize bralessness. Such versatility! Needless to say, I was riveted.
Futurebeard, meanwhile, plays Efron’s mentor, and he is mesmerizing. To call Wes Bentley’s performance here Oscar-worthy might not be much of a stretch. He plays a star DJ who’s played (uh… scratched? spun? mixed?) all over the world, before returning to his spacious SoCal studio-mansion to drink too much, seduce Zac Efron with his wonderful toys, and delivery beautiful, boozy bons mots about dance music and life.
Bentley is a study in peculiar contradictions. With his stylish haircut, Sharpie beard, slightly jagged teeth, and a-little-too-skinny-to-be-healthy physique, he perfectly rides the line between stylish and strung out, which obviously was the point. Has this guy got it all figured out, or has he been terrible places that I never want to go? He manages to pull off personal magnetism and thousand-yard stare simultaneously. When he tells off Zac Efron for being “too young to even understand the meaning of the word ‘irreparable,'” he doesn’t need to elaborate, it’s all there in his face.