It is almost impossible not to do age math when discussing We Are Your Friends, a movie IN THEORY about current and recent EDM culture (or at least that is what they want the ticket buyers to think), but really about the nostalgia for the perfect goddamn dance music from the golden era of DFA records (mid-2000s, when most of the fans of current and recent EDM culture were still in elementary school).
The song (remix) after which the film got its name was released in 2006. It was anthemic to a particular part of a particular generation. As someone who was 25 at the time, discovering that Max Joseph, the director of this movie was 24 when it came out and that the most notable credit prior to We Are Your Friends is the 12 Years of DFA: Too Old to Be New, Too Young To Be Classic documentary (a Red Bull Music Academy production, natch), so I feel confident saying that he too was part of that generation for which that song was a call to dancefloor arms every night it came on. Zac Efron was starring in High School Musical that very year (aged 19) and we can only hope secretly listening to LCD Soundsystem in between dance numbers with Vanessa Hudgens (even if those are likely empty hopes). Wes Bentley was 27 and dealing with Nic Cage in Ghost Rider that year. Emily Ratajkowski was 14 and not even a twinkle in Robin Thicke’s eye yet.
But here we are, almost a decade later and 2006 feels vintage almost. Zac Efron, whether we like it or not (or hate the fact that we like it) is as close to a legitimate movie star of his generation as we’re likely to get (he is 28 now, you guys) and dance music has finally gotten to a point where Hollywood has decided to greenlight a major motion picture about it. This probably means dance music is finally and truly dead. Bring on the Skrillex documentary.
The thing is, the movie is pretty ok. It is a classic hustle / how-to-make-it-in-America story, and has a certain West Coast bookend feel to it to How to Make it in America, its East Coast HBO predecessor (music takes the place of streetwear, a brand new Emily taking the role of a Lake, etc.)
Cole and his friends do the things kids do in hopes of striking gold: they don’t go to college unless it is to charm co-eds into coming to clubs they promote, Cole DJs on the side, someone else deals on the side, they live in the valley, talk about girls and sushi and making it big, and are both hopeful and hopeless at the same time.
At a party, Cole meets and becomes fast friends (party friends are the best friends, right?) with James Reed, a sort of a James Murphy / Mark Ronson hybrid of an aging superstar DJ/Producer and proceeds to hang around his home, DJ his house parties, pick up sage advice (like using real sounds, and not trying to emulate anything, that kind of stuff), develops a massive crush on his assistant girlfriend (Emily Rajatkowski, whose audition tape was probably the Blurred Lines video and nothing else, so she knows it and owns it). Everything from there goes exactly as you think it would.
Which is not a bad thing, because it goes exactly as you think it would in sort of an endearing, old-fashioned way, where people earnestly talk about their dreams, and watch them get crushed, and make bad decisions, and have good moments, and all sorts of other stuff that makes a good-old-fashioned-Hollywood-made-yarn.
And that is maybe the film’s biggest strength and weakness: for all its buzzy voice-over narrations, and beat breakdowns, and animated drug sequences (actually, there is only one), deep down We Are Your Friends is an old-fashioned movie: it asks you to stick it out with these characters, it asks you to trust the filmmakers, it even invites an old-fashioned tearjerk moment or two towards the end. It is all the things I imagine 19 year olds going to the Electric Daisy festival (or whatever) may hate (do those kids even go to the movie theatres anymore?). Yet it seems too young and glitchy on the surface for the non-19-year olds to be attracted to it. We Are Your Friends is somehow, against all odds, an underdog of a film. Let’s hope it finds its legs and stays the distance, at least a little.