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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Movie Review - We Are Your Friends

We Are Your Friends (2015)
Starring Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer, and Jon Bernthal
Directed by Max Joseph
***This film is currently streaming on HBO Now***

I'm typically not a fan of movies that glorify a drug-filled slacker lifestyle, but color me surprised that something clicked with We Are Your Friends, a film that unjustifiably garnered one of the lowest opening weekend (and grand total) box office grosses ever for a wide release film.  We Are Your Friends is by no means a film without flaws (the film's climactic ending, as an example, comes off more laughable than dramatically effective) but the drubbing it received from the public is a bit surprising seeing how this coming of age film seems like it would've hit home with the college age "finding yourself" crowd.

We follow young twenty-something Cole (Zac Efron), a San Fernando Valley DJ, who spends his free time perfecting his craft by hovering over his computer and hanging out with his trio of slacker friends (Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez, and Alex Shaffer) who all do what they can (including selling drugs) in order to make ends meet.  One evening at a club event where he is DJ'ing, Cole meets James (Wes Bentley), an older, more experienced spinner who invites Cole out for a night on the town, after which they become friends.  The mentor/mentee relationship begins well, but starts to falter when Cole finds himself falling for James's girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) and an infamous cinematic love triangle begins to form.

The film makes much use of music, detailing how DJs gradually amp up their rhythms to get the crowd in a never-ending groove.  First-time feature film director Max Joseph utilizes a rampant pulsing beat throughout many of the film's scenes that while creating a music video atmosphere also perfectly depicts the places inhabited by the characters in the film.  The frenetic club sequences are nicely balanced by some quieter, more dramatic and character-developing moments and the two distinct filmmaking styles and tones mesh quite seamlessly with one another.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the film's disappointing box office returns (and, quite frankly, one of the reasons I misjudged the flick) is that it stars Zac Efron.  While I'm certainly not saying his performance here should've garnered any modicum of awards fervor, I think the time has come to realize that he's grown into a completely capable and compelling star.  Looking back on my reviews of the young man, he's more than proven he's got what it takes to hold his own onscreen. The days of High School Musical are behind him and perhaps he needs to be taken a bit more seriously.  The rest of the cast is also quite good -- and, with full knowledge of the sexist nature of this upcoming remark -- Emily Ratajkowski is stunningly gorgeous (and holds her own with her slightly underdeveloped love interest role).

It may seem like I'm overpraising We Are Your Friends given the grade it'll be receiving below, but it's not without a few large faults.  By the time the film comes to its conclusion, I never got the sense the character of Cole had gone through a huge growth arc and I think that's supposed to be the emotional core.  The flick's final scene is supposed to be a pivotal moment for the character and the way director/co-screenwriter Joseph has filmed and wrote it, I couldn't help but chuckle a little.  Still, this is his first film and overall I think that there are huge amounts of promise in the director.  Sure, We Are Your Friends oftentimes mimics a music video, but that aspect of it never overstays its welcome.  This one was a bit of a sleeper for me that I almost bypassed -- I'm happy I didn't.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

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