It was only a matter of time before someone attempted to make a grand cinematic statement about the wants and desires of millennials. Their ubiquity in pop culture and media makes them ripe for catering to—they are, after all, a significant and not-to-be overlooked demographic, and every generation needs that one defining film that speaks not only to but for their particular pathos. This is what is attempted with We Are Your Friends. The problem, of course, is in the attempt. No, generationally defining statements cannot be specifically crafted—they must resonate naturally and effortlessly. You must speak without trying, for the moment you make an attempt you lose your audience. Though We Are Your Friends was never as bad as I expected it to be, neither was it as good as it wished it was and the resultant mess is little but a half-hearted attempt to strike a chord while playing all of the wrong notes.
Zac Efron stars as Cole, a young man with dreams of making a splash in the world of EDM. He and his buddies Mason (Jonny Watson), Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), and Squirrel (Alex Shaffer) have a lot of non-specific aspirations of making it big doing…something. They spend their days lying about, picking up odd jobs, or trying to compose “the one song” that will catapult Cole to DJ superstardom and their nights promoting for a local club. Cole catches a break when he meets James (Wes Bentley), a DJ who has accomplished a rise to fame and is in the midst of spiraling into out of control alcoholism. Cole and James forge a partnership, with Cole finding the mentor he desires and James finding new inspiration, but this could all come crashing down thanks, as always, to a girl, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski).
It’s all very trite and flashy—which, now that I think about, maybe does make it perfect for millennials. It’s entertaining enough, I suppose, in that I didn’t particularly hate it and maintained a mild interest in the overall journey, but it never really goes anywhere. Instead, We Are Your Friends spins its wheels endlessly, creating a lot of noise and plumes of smoke without ever taking off. It’s almost, then, an accidental metaphor for the generation it wishes to capture: There’s a whole lot of talk without any action to back it up.
The cast does a perfectly okay job with the script, written by Max Joseph, who also directs, and Meaghan Oppenheimer. Efron and Bentley, especially, wholly inhabit their characters and very nearly transcend the overall pointlessness of the story. Efron has done a lot of growing up since his High School Musical days, and seems poised to leave his role as child-star behind him. He’s developed into a fine actor and holds his own with Bentley, who delivers one of his best performances since American Beauty, all things considered.
It’s a shame they didn’t have better material to work with, however. The script plods and meanders, searching desperately for meaning with trivial observations that never amount to anything beyond high school philosophy—it never says anything of consequence, no matter how hard it believes it does. Party scenes go nowhere and feel designed to appeal to an ideal that probably doesn’t exist, and if it does is too unimportant to care about; characters act like entitled douchebags without ever bringing anything to the table to back up their bravado; situations they get into feel unnatural, like an imitation of what some suited executive believes will appeal to the demographic. There’s nothing about We Are Your Friends that doesn’t feel tailored by market research and analysis, which stales the entire project.
Far from being the defining movie it so clearly wants to be, We Are Your Friends comes off more as parody than anything else. Millennials will walk away unimpressed while other generations will walk away with their stereotypes vehemently emboldened. It’s certainly not the worst film I’ve ever seen, nor is it the worst film of the year. It’s far too bland and forgettable to be either of those things. This is a film that fades from memory almost as soon as the lights go up in the theater, which is honestly probably for the best. If you had to spend any real time considering what you’ve just seen, you’d end up becoming just as disillusioned as the generation it attempts to capture.
We Are Your Friends is in theaters now.