The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


We Are Your Friends

EDM is a strange form of music. It's all beats and loops and samples. It can be extremely grating, yet when done well, EDM can also be strangely catchy. Regardless of your feelings on the music, it's hard to deny that creating it requires a specific talent. You have to hear things others wouldn't, and you have to be able to see how disparate sounds might fit together in interesting ways. We Are Your Friends is about someone with these particular skills who hopes to hit the big time. The film is less successful than he is.

Zac Efron plays Cole Carter, an aspiring DJ looking to make inroads into the EDM scene. He spends his days hanging with his bros: aspiring actor Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), aspiring club owner Mason (Jonny Weston), and aspiring-to-get-laid nerd Squirrel (Alex Shaffer). To make some much-needed money for their dreams, the guys get jobs working for a shady businessman, Paige (Jon Bernthal), who takes advantage of people whose houses are in foreclosure. Cole finally gets his music break when an older, more established DJ named James (Wes Bentley) takes him on as a protege, teaching the ways of making phat beatz. But surprise, surprise, things aren't as great as they seem. Cole has no stomach for Paige's dishonest ways, and James turns out to be a drunken ass, albeit one with a girlfriend, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), Cole would love to hook up with.

We Are Your Friends is fairly engaging when it sticks to the EDM theme. Director Max Joseph effectively captures the frantic energy of the music, often attempting to mimic it with filmmaking techniques. Graphics and words occasionally flash up on the screen to drive a point home, and there are several rapidly-cut montages showing how EDM is, in many respects, the soundtrack to Cole's life. The best of these features Cole and Sophie cavorting around Las Vegas after ditching a music festival. It's reminiscent of the scene from Lost in Translation where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson run through the streets of Tokyo, but set to a pulsing electronic beat.

The beat, we learn, really is the thing. One of the movie's best scenes – aside from the one where Cole ingests PCP and suddenly imagines everyone around him rendered in animation – finds him explaining the physiology of EDM to Sophie. He tells her that the goal is to increase the BPM (beats per minute) gradually, until hitting the sweet spot where the audience's hearts begin to pulse at the same tempo. When that occurs, the party officially starts. If anything, We Are Your Friends could have done even more on this count. It would have been interesting to learn more about how EDM is created – what all the dials and pads do, and how the DJs modulate the reaction of the crowd.

We Are Your Friends falters whenever it steps out from behind Cole's DJ equipment. His friends are barely-developed stock characters. Sophie is a generic, personality-free love interest. (Emily Ratajkowski may be a supermodel, but she isn't exactly a charismatic actress.) The subplot involving Paige's dirty business is a huge cliché designed to do nothing but give Cole a conveniently-timed crisis of conscience. And then there's “the incident” - the event that forces Cole to finally put all his efforts into finding a unique sound. It is literally the most obvious, formulaic thing you could imagine. Joseph and co-writer Meaghan Oppenheimer are far more successful at creating a look at the EDM scene than they are at creating human drama.

All the weak non-music stuff really limits how far We Are Your Friends can go. The intriguing material, involving a young musician's quest to express himself, constitutes about half the film, while the other half is filled with uninspired melodrama and dull “struggling artist” boilerplate. Had it contained more about the creativity that goes into getting an audience up off their feet, this could have been a really special movie. We Are Your Friends has an undeniably nice beat, but it never hits the magic tempo that Cole says is so vital in getting everyone to euphorically groove.

( out of four)

We Are Your Friends is rated R for language throughout, drug use, sexual content and some nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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