‘We Are Your Friends’ (2015) review: Dropping the (heart)beat

Efron-led coming-of-age tale unsurprising but still charming

Much like the electronic dance music it weaves throughout its story, “We Are Your Friends” is all about maintaining its rhythm: You know what to expect most of the time, but then the movie drops the beat, managing to catch you by surprise (if only for a moment).

Let’s not pretend that the feature debut by director Max Joseph (who also co-wrote the script with Meaghan Oppenheimer) is more than the typical coming-of-age tale, but it does possess some sweet charm, if for no other reason than its appealing stars and enjoyable soundtrack.

As with most flicks of this type, the cast of “We Are Your Friends” aim big — Hollywood and all of its promises are just on the cusp of their reach (both literally and figuratively) — but lack the direction to achieve their dreams. But, of course, that’s not to stop Cole (Zac Efron) and his friends from trying to escape the San Fernando Valley (derisively just called “the Valley” more than once here).

Because it’s Hollywood, of course our motley crew has ambitions of stardom. Cole is an aspiring DJ, working away at his laptop and hoping he has just enough talent to create that “one track” that can change the world. His entourage, if you would, includes best friends and “manager” Mason (Jonny Weston); actor wannabe/drug deal Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez); and Squirrel (Alex Shaffer), the mop-haired sensitive guy. All four dream of something bigger, just over the horizon in the City of Angels.

Life is moving along as it does in situations like these (meaning: not at all) when fate intervenes: By chance, Cole encounters James Reed (Wes Bentley), a well-known DJ in the scene. Reed, for some reason that’s never really explored, decides to teach Cole as he knows. And Cole, being the ambitious go-getter that he is, jumps at the chance, soaking in the excess that is Reed’s life — the fame, the money, the insanely beautiful girlfriend/assistant Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski). Bentley’s Reed, though, couldn’t seem to care less, even when he’s earnestly trying to help Cole create his own EDM sound. It’s a strange partnership, but you know what they say about opposites attracting.

At the same time that Cole’s career is getting a boost, the young men, trying to earn some extra cash on a more reliable basis than none at all, take on jobs at a mortgage company ran by possibly the sleaziest boss, Paige (Jon Bernthal), you could come across. It’s clear he has money, but it’s also clear he lacks any sense of moral bearing. The choice then becomes clear: make it big in Hollywood, or work in a less-than-fulfilling career. (Come to think of it, hasn’t always been the story of L.A.?)

While all this is going on, Sophie and Cole start to bond, first at the suggestion of Reed, who’s happy to let Cole deal with Sophie’s “angst,” but then the feelings start to run deeper — because of course they would. When the inevitable fallout you knew was coming happens, Cole finds himself at a crossroad between his future and the present.

In the end, “We Are Your Friends” isn’t nearly as deep as it wants you to believe, but it’s still charming nonetheless thanks largely to its sincere leads. Plus, this coming-of-age story pulls off some cool visual animations, alongside the chaotically colorful backdrop of raves and EDM parties. Then there’s the excellent, completely danceable soundtrack that’s worth the price alone. If nothing else, you may learn something about the human circulatory system and its response to EDM. That’s something, right?

Three “There are too many Skrillex jokes to make here” stars out of five.

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