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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Flop Report: Making Sense of Zac Efron's We Are Your Friends

Posted By on Wed, Sep 2, 2015 at 2:30 PM

Zac Efron in We Are Your Friends - WARNER BROS. PICTURES, 2015
  • Warner Bros. Pictures, 2015
  • Zac Efron in We Are Your Friends

If you haven’t seen Warner Bros. Picture's We Are Your Friends yet, don’t worry. Nobody has. With a $1.8 million opening weekend, it’s one of the worst debuts ever. We just have to ask: What happened?

The story centers around aspiring EDM DJ Cole Carter (Efron), who, along with his crew of burnout bros, tries to milk every tip and trick out of James (Wes Bentley), a DJ superstar. The plot is littered with half-realized emotional meltdowns, a formulaic love triangle between Cole, James, and his girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) — and just a smidgen of EDM.

Ultimately, it’s a film about melodramatic relationships that does very little to challenge the stigma that all DJ’s do is take massive amounts of drugs and push buttons on a laptop. And what We Are Your Friends does to oversimplify EDM, it also does to generalize female characters. Just look to Ratajkowski, who plays a hyper-sexualized, former Stanford student who spends most of the movie pouting, doing whatever men tell her to do, and shrugging when asked the definition of the word "assemblage." (Thanks a lot, Stanford.)

It isn’t fair to call the film a total bust, though. Inside of the predictable plot are a few nice one-liners, a stimulating score, and genuine effort from its leading actors. Better still is its use of graphics and animation to depict the inner-workings of the body (be it anatomical or spiritual) while listening to music or taking hallucinogenic drugs. These scenes (done in a brightly colored rotoscoping) interestingly mirror the way that music sampling often happens — and the visual reference to the music experience is possibly the most thought-out element of the entire film.

“One thing that Zac and I talked about was this theme of sampling,” explains director Max Joseph of his reliance on these graphics. “There’s the theme of sampling in the film with Zac’s character is kind of searching for who he is, both as an artist and as a person.”

“Even in the things that he says he’s kind of sampling things that his other friends say. For his music he’s sampling or copying other musicians before he finds his own sound. Collage and sampling makes music composition kind of a visual thing — it’s a visual representation of what it’s like to make music out of samples.”

It was this business of sampling and creating music that attracted Efron to the project in the first place.

“DJing to me was something that I was really interested in but never knew how to do — and that was a skill that I wanted to learn,” Efron said. “The cool part about it was that I actually got to work with some great guys that not only showed me how to DJ, but showed me how to make it look authentic and put passion behind it.”

“[The music] sort of pours out out of him,” he said of his character. “The decks aren’t decks anymore; they’re like spiritual controls and he’s just losing control”

But it’s a shame that audiences aren’t a part of that process. If you’re going to make a movie about DJing and EDM, and you go to trouble of teaching an actor how to do it, why then spend the entire 100 minutes of the film avoiding any real dialogue about the actual work that goes into making a successful career as a professional musician?

Warner Bros. Pictures’ We Are Your Friends is directed by Max Joseph and stars Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski, and Wes Bentley. It is now playing in theaters nationwide. 

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Laura Jaye Cramer


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