REVIEW: We Are Your Friends

10 07 2016

Zac Efron, at least until recently, was far more known for his impressive abs than his impressive acting. His actual body received more attention than his body of work. Beginning with 2014’s “Neighbors,” Efron turned his weapon of seduction into a weapon of self-deprecation, making his tabloid good looks the butt of the joke rather than an unironic selling point.

But what happens when Efron tries to be just … Zac Efron? Not a performance of himself, but just any other actor who wants to live and die by their work alone. As of publication, 2015’s “We Are Your Friends” is really the only film to date that allows Efron to be just any other performer. It never calls back to our cultural associations as a teen idol or sex symbol; in fact, the only time he appears shirtless appears incidentally and not as a deliberate courting of lust and/or jealousy.

As Cole, an aspiring EDM DJ awaiting his big break, Efron probably had to act more than ever to get into the mindset of the character. Talented though he may be, Cole dwells in mediocrity. He languishes in the San Fernando Valley, tucked away from the bright lights of Los Angeles, with three fiercely loyal but stagnant chums. (The illegitimate cousin of acting, pornography, thrived in this area during the ’70s.) Luckily for Cole, his medium of artistic expression rewards its participants on the basis of a single hit track.

Director Max Joseph sets up Cole as a sonic scientist behind the mix table before even establishing him as a creator or a person. His technique stems from an ability to physiologically affect his audience using principles of rhythm and frequency. It stands in marked contrast to the thespian in his friend group, who refers to himself as “a movie star” in a sea of actors. On a meta level, “We Are Your Friends” begs the question … is this calculated, methodical artist a reflection of the Efron that is? Or perhaps the one that could have been without the meteoric success of “High School Musical” that until recently hung like an albatross around his neck?

Zac Efron in We Are Your Friends

It’s almost too fitting to ask these questions about Efron in the context of “We Are Your Friends,” a prime example of a film whose confusion and missteps raise more intriguing points than anything seen on screen. There is never a doubt that Joseph and co-screenwriter Meagan Oppenheimer are making an earnest effort to say something through the film, its setting and the characters.

In many ways, the narrative pitfalls are depressingly standard. The duo has little poise in juggling an A, B and C storyline. Most of “We Are Your Friends” revolves around Cole’s quest to break out of his funk and into the EDM stratosphere with a little help from an eager mentor, Wes Bentley’s James Reed. Complicating matters are his growing attraction to the high-flying music world, a place which seems to have little room for his lower-class homies. And bubbling underneath it all, Cole and company try to earn a steady paycheck working in real estate for Jon Bernthal’s Paige Morrell. His firm, of course, predicates its wealth on exploiting the poor and the downtrodden.

Trying to say something about wealth, class, status and our post-recession world is a lot for any movie to handle. It’s almost as if Joseph and Oppenheimer feel the need to go into overdrive to prove that any film set amidst a popular music craze can have serious merit. Their ideas are worth engaging with, even if their execution leaves something to be desired. When Cole cries out, “Are we ever going to better than this?” as the hook of a track, the line sets the mind racing. Both about the film and its tortured star, an artist who seems frustrated by the unsparing ravages of his craft and the fickle desires of the audiences consuming it. B2halfstars



One response

16 08 2016

I noticed after watching this movie tonight how bad the ratings on it really are. However I really liked this movie, the concept and the delivery may have been slow yes, but the climactic song was worth the wait..

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