It’s been a while since a movie craved approval as much as We Are Your Friends, the new movie out this weekend in which Zac Efron is a DJ and millennials are all sad party chasers. We Are Your Friends is unfailingly earnest in its appeal—it even includes us in the title!—so if I may, I’d like to answer the almost question of its title directly.
It’s sweet that you think so but, no, We Are Your Friends. You are not my friend. We are acquaintances at best and, frankly, the particulars of your existence are somewhat off-putting to me. However, you’re sincere and I think, at heart, probably a decent movie—no, that’s not an invitation, so don’t get too excited, but you’re probably just what some overachieving raver out there needs. For that, I salute you.
All said and done, We Are Your Friends is a surprisingly well-made film, a credit to Catfish star Max Joseph, directing and co-writing his first narrative feature here. Its stars approach the material with honesty and curiosity, especially the ever-reliable Zac Efron and his costar Emily Ratajkowski, who is so credible and self-assured here that it’s doubly annoying thinking about the videos and films that have hired her (and the ones that will continue to hire her) to play a walking pair of breasts.
But even when We Are Your Friends is bringing the moves, it’s got too much on its mind to bring the whole party.
What is it with the new rash of Trojan horse party movies that claim to be in on the fun, only to turn the stage into a pulpit the second they get their chance at the mic? Last year it was Beyond the Lights, which seemed to think all hip-hop needed was a return to pianos and Nina Simone. This year we’ve got We Are Your Friends, which seems to think what electronic music is missing is a dose of purpose and responsibility, along with recordings of household clinks and clanks. To all the DJs out there, keep making those sweet, sweet computer beats—don’t go out and start recording nail guns and wind chimes thinking you’re going to earn extra brownie points.
Sometimes a jam is just a jam and a party’s just a party. Let We Are Your Friends be a lesson to us all—don’t go searching for meaning at a rave, lest you become like poor Zac Efron here, screaming “Will we ever be better than this???” over the roar of a crowd that is 100 percent not listening.
There’s a moment when Wes Bentley, the film’s drunken Yoda, impresses upon his young padawan Zac Efron the importance of using live sound in electronic music. It’s the moment that the rest of the film revolves around, claiming that sound needs to be personal and authentic for it to connect with people. Bentley proselytizes and then he claps, supposedly emphasizing the authenticity of the sound his hands make—but the sound of the clap itself is canned. The sound clearly isn’t coming from Wes Bentley’s hands, it’s coming from a post-production sound studio, and it’s this kind of heartfelt inauthenticity that plagues the film’s approach to both music and to life.
Honestly, this movie might be proof that it’s time to retire the American Dream, not just from life—duh, people have been saying that for a century now—but from movies too. Watching these raging bros sometimes literally shout into the abyss made me wonder if there are any versions of this story still worth telling. Isn’t it enough to have to deal with overeager bros hellbent on hustling their piece of the American Dream in real life without having to watch them at the movies?
It’s funny how simple the real-world solution to the characters’ existential angst is: Just don’t go to the party, friend. Do something else! Read a book? Books aren’t the solution to all the world’s problems, but these bros need a book. They need a cabal of books—hell, give them a whole syllabus.
It’s hard to imagine We Are Your Friends being a hit, since its earnest plea is almost certainly falling on deaf ears, but it is easy to imagine We Are Your Friends being someone’s favorite film, something that speaks to that person’s nonsense existence, moving them in their heart of emotionally-stunted-cyborg hearts.
After all, douchebags need movies too.