“We Are Your Friends” has a beat, and multitudes dance to it.
The beat here is pervasive, invasive, propulsive. As the picture’s protagonist, a young San Fernando Valley DJ played by Zac Efron, explains it, this singular beat is carefully calibrated to elevate heart rates and speed up breathing so that the listener is so in tune with the music that music and listener merge into one.
The beat is constructed on sound systems with a laptop as the core component. Live musicians? Who needs ’em? In the world of “We Are Your Friends,” which is the world of electronic dance music — EDM — the DJ is the composer, the sampler, the maestro and the band, all in one.
First-time feature director/co-screenwriter Max Joseph (Meaghan Oppenheimer shares screenplay credit) snakes the movie into this world with a sure touch, taking viewers to clubs, parties and stadium shows where throngs of millennials lose themselves ecstatically in the music produced by Efron’s character, Cole, and his DJ kind in scenes of great immediacy.
Joseph even includes a helpful tutorial in a voiceover sequence in which Cole illustrates the distinct and succeedingly speedy beats at the heart of such styles as dubstep, house and hardcore.
The picture is more than merely an extended music video. Joseph has a story to tell about Cole and his three best buds (played by Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez and Alex Shaffer), San Fernando Valley guys marking time at dead-end jobs and dreaming of escaping the valley and traveling over the hill to make their fortunes in the entertainment industry environs of Los Angeles.
Cole’s goal is embodied by a world-famous DJ named James. Played by Wes Bentley, bearded like Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine with lupine smile to match, James boasts about wowing crowds from Tokyo to Berlin to Dubai. Arrogant, sardonic and charismatic, he mesmerizes Cole and soon becomes the younger man’s mentor.
Mesmerizing too is James’ girlfriend, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), the pivotal mesmeric moment coming when she and Cole lock eyes across a crowded dance floor in a stereotypical Movie Moment of which there are, thankfully, relatively few in the picture.
The expected complications ensue — hurt feelings, punched faces, recriminations — and it all has a maturing effect that ultimately is reflected in Cole’s music.
Giving the picture some unexpected depth is a subplot that finds Cole and his buddies obliged to take day jobs with a sleazy real estate outfit that scams financially hard-pressed homeowners out of their homes. It’s a dark side to the California dream.
Efron is excellent in the central role, sensitive and confident, with his movie-star good looks shown to best advantage in his moments of repose.
But it’s that hypnotic beat that is the picture’s real strength. It gets inside you and pumps you up.
WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS
☆☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski and Wes Bentley.
Director: Max Joseph.
Running time: 1:36.
Rated: R, for language throughout, drug use, sexual content and some nudity.