Connect with us


We Are Your Friends | Review

Fair Weather Daydreams: Joseph’s Debut Mixes Surprising Energy into Vapid SoCo Slush

Max Joseph We Are Your FriendsFrom its familiar yet nicely edited introductory credits, to its sweaty palmed electro enhanced climax, Max Joseph’s BPM booming coming-of-age drama We Are Your Friends sometimes surprises by tapping into an energetic vein of youth on a precipice. But an intense focus on extra sensory visual flourishes meant to channel all the right vibes tends to distract from more important necessary developments, mainly the creation of empathetic characters. Instead, this tepid gaggle of immature San Fernando Valley bros comprises an achingly obnoxious focal point the film never recovers from, no matter how sincere lead Zac Efron desperately appeals to us as the mostly reasonable protagonist.

Cole (Efron) feels trapped in the sticky wasteland known as the San Fernando Valley. Estranged from his parents, he lives on the couch of best friend Mason (Johnny Weston). In a flash of sporadic voiceover, we’re introduced to them and their other two buds, Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), an aspiring actor moonlighting as a drug dealer, and the shy guy, Squirrel (Alex Shaffer). The three of his friends work as promoters of L.A. night club Social, where Cole is sometimes allowed to DJ in the side room. There, Cole meets famed DJ James (Wes Bentley), and they strike up a conversation which leads to a working relationship. This is marred by Cole’s inability to leave behind his stagnant friends and his increasing attraction to James’ much younger girlfriend, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski).

There are several shared moments between a reasonably amused Wes Bentley and the apparently well-researched Efron (DJ Alesso reportedly showed him the necessary ropes) that make for interesting, even inspired screen time of the age old friction between an apprentice and his troubled mentor, but most of this gets muddled with the silly love triangle involving Ratajkowski, the ingénue from the popular music video for Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Ratajkowski, though quite becoming, displays an extremely limited emotional register, hovering somewhere around an eternal pout, often upstaged by her own sulky, substantial lips. What exactly is so alluring about her, beyond her youth, is anyone’s guess, but realistic chemistry with either Bentley or Efron is absent.

As familiar as all that feels, these love triangle moments are immeasurably better than scenes focused on Efron’s cadre of unfortunate sidekicks, particularly the increasingly objectionable Johnny Weston (of the dismal Project Almanac). Yes, there are many young men who act in similar fashion both in and out of the specific locale, but Joseph forgets to instill Weston with any redeeming values—the two character are supposed to be friends, after all. In fact, none of these young men seem realistically bonded, including drug dealer Shiloh Fernandez (looking a bit like John Hawkes here) and the runt of the group, Alex Shaffer. Poor Jon Bernthal gets saddled in a subplot involving raping homeowners facing foreclosure for a bit of extra dismal padding used to paint these ‘dreamers’ into a corner of difficult decisions.

Joseph spends a lot of time trying to show new ingenious ways visually representative of what rolling feels like, or the chemistry behind what differentiates a good DJ from a great one. Somehow, these moments never seems to feel like more than the fluff of laughable farce because the one thing We Are Your Friends lacks is sincerity. While Efron’s Cole pursues his dreams, this is more of a Cinderella story.

For anyone who’s seen and appreciated Mia Hansen-Love’s 2014 film Eden, an honest portrayal of the electronic music scene and the all-consuming situations that usually transpire instead of overnight success, We Are Your Friends feels like a sunny fantasy grasping at straws. But Joseph sometimes does a moderately decent job of masking the superficiality—until a dismal finale wherein Efron plays a recording of a dead friend over his first big debut, shouting “Will we ever be better than this?” Unfortunately, this wasn’t a question posed during the development of the film, which certainly has the potential to be better than it is had someone spent as much time juicing up the narrative to match the pulsing soundtrack.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Click to comment

More in Reviews

To Top