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?

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REVIEW: White Bird in a Blizzard

27 09 2014

White Bird in a BlizzardGregg Araki’s “White Bird in a Blizzard” begins with the interesting premise of hybridizing two familiar generic forms, the missing person thriller and the adolescent sexual flowering drama.  The body of Eva Green’s Eve Connor disappears mysteriously while her 17-year-old daughter Kat (Shailene Woodley) “was becoming nothing but [her] body.”

Though the blend starts off curiously, it eventually just feels blandly noncommittal.  The film lacks a clear, purposeful narrative through-line to propel it forward.  It progresses largely on the basis of “here are scenes of things that happen to Kat,” an assuredly unsatisfying way to watch a film.

The wishy-washy, always vacillating plot of “White Bird in a Blizzard” is certainly not helped by the fact the leading actress has already explored its central issues.  We’ve seen Woodley deal with family trouble ensuing from an absent mother in “The Descendants,” and we’ve watched her carnal awakenings in both “The Fault in Our Stars” and “The Spectacular Now.”

Woodley still has intermittent flashes of inspired breakthrough, which is a testament to just how talented of a performer she truly is.  Making a put-out teen watchable on its fourth reheat is certainly an achievement.  But “White Bird in a Blizzard” could mark the moment where she started to find brick walls where she once found niches in her archetypical adolescent.  I fear that the film’s lasting legacy will not be that Woodley revealed intimate parts of her soul but rather that she bared intimate parts of her body.

If that’s what Shailene Woodley needs to grow into an adult performer, then the film is certainly not a waste.  But I can’t help but think “White Bird in a Blizzard” does not serve anyone else particularly well, especially not its screenwriter and director Gregg Araki.  His work as a pioneer of New Queer Cinema broke boundaries; yet here, turning in a much more mainstream product, Araki seems lost and leaves a rather indistinct stamp as an artist.  C+ / 2stars