Cole (Zac Efron, "Neighbors") is a young aspiring DJ trying to crack the track that will catapult him into the big time. He finds a mentor in James (Wes Bentley, "The Hunger Games"), but his attraction to the man's much younger girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski, "Entourage") proves an obstacle to his professional future in "We Are Your Friends."
Cowriter (with Meaghan Oppenheimer)/director Max Joseph makes his feature filmmaking debut with a story by Richard Silverman which will invariably draw comparisons to "Entourage" with its four friends centered around a rising star with Ratajkowski as his love interest, the others a supportive driver, a fast talking manager and an aspiring actor. But this isn't the frat boy party that "Entourage" frequently resembled, instead a story about the choices we make on the way up, the hubris of the young in the face of experience and the quest to find one's artistic voice. Zac Efron hasn't proven any significant range as of yet, but here he's got a role he can run with.
Joseph, who has a knack for directorial flash, starts with a lay of the land, the Hollywood Sign a demarcation point for the glitter of L.A. and the San Fernando Valley, the latter of which we're told is known for its porn industry, ditzy girls and 'the best sushi in the Western Hemisphere, always found in strip malls.' Cole lives in the pool house of his friend and budding manager Mason's (Jonny Weston, "Kelly & Cal," "Insurgent") house, alternately performing maintenance chores doled out by Mason's dad and noodling around with sound on his laptop. They and their friends Squirrel (Alex Shaffer, "Win Win") and Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez, 2013's "Evil Dead") have a regular Thursday night gig where they work promotions and Cole spins for free drinks. Cole is thunderstruck when he spies Sophie in the crowd and starts up a conversation about the legendary DJ Adam Reed, whom Cole assesses as once good, now a sellout.
But when he's out smoking a spliff in the back alley and the man joins him, Cole acts the fan and is swept away in a limo, fed some PCP and taken to an art gallery party where the paintings literally come alive (Joseph uses a mix of live action and animation for Cole's drugged POV). When he awakens in an all white living room, he's startled when Sophie walks into the room - why is she there? She lives there. With James Reed.
They're both pretty unimpressed with Cole's sample, yet James gives him a gig at his own house party and Cole, prodded by Sophie, comes through (he also offers a voice over analysis, complete with on screen graphics, on the beats of dance music and how to control a crowd). But when his buddies show up, Cole begins to sweat and sure enough, Mason acts up and the three are evicted, Cole still deemed 'cool' with Reed. This seems to galvanize Mason into some kind of competition - he gets the lads a job with Paige's (Jon Bernthal, "Fury," "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl") Goldstar Realty Solutions, a boiler room shop where they earn hefty commissions cold calling foreclosure victims to 'broker' with their banks. When Cole scores with a single mom (Alicia Coppola), a life lesson looms on the horizon. He's also in deeper with Reed, who gifts him with a Mac Pro and informs him he's been chosen to open for him at Summerfest. But when the boys hit Vegas for a major rave, Cole's called by Sophie, who once again has been sidelined by the alcoholic Reed, and the two act on their attraction.
There's a lot going on here (including the home of their own Mason procures with devastating repercussions), but Joseph follows his protagonist's advice, switching up his beats to propel his story towards its wisdom acquired conclusion. If some of those beats are cliched (and many are), he spins them with visual flair and an ear for 'an acute sense of assemblage.' Like its art house counterpart, "Eden," we get a great sense of how these people live on both sides of the success line. Efron plays Cole as cautious and conflicted, a nice kid with ambition, remaining a sympathetic character throughout. Ratajkowski has a lot more to do here than her decorative "Entourage" role and holds her own. But the film's strongest performances belong to Bentley as the generous functioning alcoholic and Weston as the motor-mouthed hustler, a potential breakout for the latter. Shaffer's the sensitive grounding one, the one who utters that 'the best part is right before it starts.' As the drug-dealing 'not an actor, a movie star,' Fernandez makes the weakest impression.
"We Are Your Friends" is a pleasant, late summer surprise. It's not a great movie, but it has a few interesting things to say about reaching for success while staying true to oneself and it's told with some real pizzazz.
Robin did not see this film.
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