We Are Your Friends

Posted by Joel Copling on August 27, 2015

It is entirely true that "We Are Your Friends" tells the familiar tale of rags to riches and that its primary subplot is a fairly predictable one involving a "forbidden" romance that will absolutely arrive at exactly the outcome we are expecting. But remember Ebert's old adage about the movie being about how it's about what it's about? That applies twofold (or, really, threefold, given that the secondary subplot is also a potentially creaky one that works for the same reasons the other elements of the narrative do) here, because it is the actors who give credence to the material here. It also helps when the the third act bid for emotion comes into the play; the shift works because the performances were already on that level of earning our sympathy.

Cole (Zac Efron) is an electronic musician who opted for an existence based on the drudgery of staying in place over college, which he could attended but reasoned that it was a waste of time. He lives with Mason (Jonny Weston), one of his quattro of best friends that also include Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), who sadly gets the short end of the stick on character development in the group, and Squirrel (Alex Shaffer), whose character seems to be the mouthpiece by which Meaghan Oppenheimer and director Max Joseph's screenplay comments on the group's restive energy.

The quartet find jobs of their own to earn cash with Paige (Jon Bernthal), but the occupation amounts to nothing more than pyramid schemes that cripple victims of foreclosure even further and rob them of their houses. Cole, meanwhile, meets James (Wes Bentley), a DJ of local legend and fame who sees potential in Cole (though this doesn't stop him from knocking Cole's self-confidence down a few necessary pegs with some blunt honesty and pretty solid creative advice) and hires him for a few gigs. James' girlfriend/assistant Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), meanwhile, is, let's say, maybe sort of attractive a little bit, and you can see where this is going now.

The result is, at first, an affectionate romantic comedy between two people who deserve each other (A morning-after breakfast showcases how well each complements the other in personality), then a perceptive drama about the manner in which tragedy changes us. The screenplay is delicate in the matter of the third-act shift, careful not to make it simply a karmic coincidence for the purpose of teaching the other characters about life. If anything, not much shifts by the last act directly because of this event, but it's the kick the movie needed to leave an impact beyond the charming one the rest of it elicited. Aesthetically, the film is a stunner, making love to electronic music both aurally (The soundtrack and Matt Simpson's score are exquisite integrated) and visually (Brett Pawlak's photography is picturesque).

The actors, though, are a large part of why the movie works as well as it does. Efron is an uneasy presence in the movies in which he appears, but here he's a warm one, with eyes that belie a little bit of emptiness at the life he's chosen for himself. Weston, Fernandez, and especially Shaffer are all solid as Cole's best friends, even if their dialogue has the pretty unsubtle job of being extensions on Cole's evolving maturity. Bentley has the difficult task of sympathizing with a loser, which he pulls off well, while Ratajkowski showcases a bright acting future as Sophie in what deserves to be a star-making performance. "We Are Your Friends" has issues of predictability, yes, but it's a solid piece of entertainment nevertheless.

Film Information

Zac Efron (Cole), Wes Bentley (James), Emily Ratajkowski (Sophie), Jonny Weston (Mason), Shiloh Fernandez (Ollie), Alex Shaffer (Squirrel), Jon Bernthal (Paige).

Directed by Max Joseph and written by Joseph and Meaghan Oppenheimer.

Rated R (language throughout, drug use, sexual content, nudity).

96 minutes.

Released on August 28, 2015.