You know you’re getting old when you spend half a movie thinking how much the lead actor, in this case Zac Efron, who plays an aspiring DJ from California, resembles a star from an earlier era. In this case, I kept marveling at his resemblance to Jason Priestley back when he was attending Beverly Hills High 90210 in the nineties. I believe many cast members of that show were in their twenties (plus one closing in on thirty) playing teens, and when I saw the opening scenes of “We Are Your Friends,” I thought Zac was supposed to be playing a teen, just as he did in “17 Again.” But no, his character and his three sidekicks (Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez and Alex Shaffer) are in their twenties. The marginally wiser mentor in this movie is an older DJ, played by Wes Bentley, who gives Zac such nuggets of wisdom as, “You are not really a person until you’re 27.” The only other “adult” is one of the character’s dads who gets a couple of lines and is never heard from again. So much for mentors who are going to skillfully guide our heroes as they learn Life Lessons.
The most interesting thing about this movie for me was that it starts off following a familiar formula for coming-of-age/hitting the big time films, then hangs a left and starts to morph into “Boiler Room,”/”The Wolf of Wall Street,” before getting back on the expected track again. That was the only twist I did not see coming a mile away. When the movie starts, Zac and his buds are passionate about electronic dance music, with Zac freelancing as a DJ whenever he can. One night out clubbing, he meets Wes and Wes’s girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski), who is currently acting as Wes’s assistant/doormat after having to leave Stanford due to financial difficulties. Although Zac privately considers Wes washed up, he’s still flattered when Wes invites him over and gives him advice on mixing tracks. But being a DJ isn’t exactly a stable profession, so Zac takes a second job cheating people out of their homes which have been foreclosed, only of course, he doesn’t realize that that’s what’s happening right away. (However, we know from the start that his supervisor is pure evil because he gives pep talks swinging a baseball bat.) As he masters the craft of cold calling, in addition to music mixing, Zac dutifully keeps his earnings in a shoebox under his bed, hoping to one day have a place of his own. He also starts to have feelings for Emily, who doesn’t seem too turned off by him either. Eventually, the inevitable happens, punches are thrown, apologies are made, etc., and then comes the Wake Up Call.
The Wake Up Call, which I won’t spoiler, usually happens in these kinds of movies in the third act, and its primary function is to sober up the protagonist and his friends and make them start thinking about doing something than simply living in the moment. It usually, though not always, involves a scene around a gravesite, followed by the main character buckling down and doing something noteworthy, and growing up in the process. Here, it involves music, of course, and a traditional movie type triumph on the part of Zac and his friends.
This is a movie that, even with shortcomings, you can’t deny wants to explain to non-fans the appeal of this type of music, and it does a fair job of breaking down the science of what gets people moving. Otherwise, it’s probably worth waiting to rent.