We Are Your Friends
Cole Carter is so close to fame and fortune … and yet so very far away.
The aspiring EDM DJ ekes out an existence—along with his club-hopping friends Mason, Ollie and Squirrel—in Southern California's San Fernando Valley. It's the home of the pornography industry, Cole tells us. And, he insists, the world's best sushi. It's the home of many, many, many would-be entertainers just like him desperately scraping the bottom of the Valley's barrel.
But Cole's a true believer. All he needs, he tells himself (and us), is one good track. A breakout hit to announce his synthesizing, rhythmic genius to the world of electronic dance music (that's what EDM stands for) and break out of the Valley's malaise. After all, we're told, 99% of people are looking for a good party. The other 1%? Well, they are the party.
Cole's convinced he can be a one-percenter.
Things begin to look up for him when he makes two nearly simultaneous, serendipitous connections. The first is with a beautiful young woman named Sophie whom he meets at a club after DJing. The second is a chance meeting later that night with famous-but-aging EDM maestro James Reed.
Of course, Cole's seeming stroke of good fortune gets seriously complicated when he soon learns that Sophie is James' live-in lover (something he'd have never guessed since she's half James' age).
We know what's going to happen next, of course.
Cole's star begins to rise. And his friendship with James deepens. As does his infatuation with Sophie.
Then they all go to Vegas for a wild weekend rave.
For a film showcasing as much immorality as this one does, there are a surprising number of moments where a moral core (or at least something like it) emerges. Cole is shown to recognize (and object to) hurtful deceptions. He even acts on his newfound revulsion, quitting a job that he really does need because he's helping to hurt people by doing it. To one of those people Cole generously tries to right the wrong he's done by giving her a massively stuffed box of cash he'd been saving.
Cole also hates the fact that James casually cheats on Sophie. Cole jumps to defend the lady's honor when someone suggests her morals are loose. And after he and Sophie eventually have sex (ending her relationship with James when he subsequently learns of it), Cole works up enough courage and moral fortitude to actually apologize to James.
Along similar lines, Cole and his friends engage in all manner of hedonistic debauchery involving drugs, alcohol and casual sex—obviously not good. But as the film progresses, its story grows subtly more self-aware, with characters asking some significant questions about where meaning in life is really found. Squirrel asks Cole, "Are we ever going to be better than this?" It's a question that haunts Cole, and one that he eventually integrates into a song. After a shocking death due to overdose, Cole tells James, "No one thinks they're a bad person. I don't think I'm a good one."
None of that self-examination is framed in a spiritual way, per se, but the film arguably suggests that the partying and excesses its characters often engage in ultimately aren't spiritually fulfilling.
We see a neon cross. Cole has an event bill on his wall with a picture of Jesus on it. A rabbi officiates a funeral.
James and Sophie are cohabiting, and we see lots of scenes that hint at their active sex life. James also seems quite willing to cheat on Sophie with women he flirts with and kisses at clubs. (It's something Cole eventually calls him on—the cheating part, not the shacking up part.)
When Sophie then cheats with Cole, we see their passionate clutching and explicit consummation. (He's shirtless; their sexual movements are somewhat shadowed but still obvious.) Another man has sex with a woman in a car. (The scene also shows explicit movements.) A couple makes out in a photo booth.
Sophie wears outfits that reveal cleavage, an obvious lack of undergarments and the sides of her breasts. (The camera lingeringly ogles her in close-up mode.) Other women wear very skimpy clothing and bikinis. A scene in a strip club boasts breast nudity. Similarly, a wild pool party includes multiple shots of topless women. Various male characters are shown shirtless and wearing just underwear. Cole's shown in the shower (from the shoulders up).
Banter and dialogue reference the guys having sex with women they've met at raves and parties. We hear crude allusions to oral sex, erections, breasts, testicles, masturbation and other sexual acts. The porn industry's presence in the San Fernando Valley gets referenced several times, as proof of the place's general seediness.
When James eventually learns that Sophie has cheated with Cole, he storms into a public restroom and repeatedly punches the younger man, then slams him to the floor. Mason has a hair-trigger temper, and he gets into a fight with a guy at party. At another party, Cole decks a dude who says crude things about Sophie. Cole's shown with a bloodied face after another altercation.
Crude or Profane Language
We hear one use of the c-word and about 75 f-words, with at least one paired with "mother." The s-word is used at least 15 times. Also: "b--ch," "h---" "p---," "a--," "a--hole," "d--k" and "p---y." Misuses of God's name turn up five or six times (twice with "d--n"). Jesus' name is abused two or three times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
People at parties keep asking Cole to play a song called "Drunken Love." And, indeed, excessive alcohol and drug use permeates the movie—but not without comment. James, in particular, is obviously an alcoholic. He's shown utterly inebriated and passed out several times. Sophie, in contrast, doesn't drink at all. And she's repeatedly disgusted with James' out-of-control drinking. (At one point James downs an energy drink in a brief stab at sobriety.)
As for the drugs, multiple scenes show people casually smoking marijuana. When Cole offers James a marijuana-and-tobacco blended spliff, James chokes on it and lectures Cole about never mixing THC and nicotine—before giving the guy a joint that he later laughingly says was laced with PCP. Cole promptly begins hallucinating.
Ollie, meanwhile, deals all manner of drugs on the side. Before a massive rave, he brags that he has "uppers, downers, screamers, laughers and MDMA" (the latter being a reference to the popular rave drug Ecstasy). Though she typically doesn't do drugs or drink alcohol, at the Las Vegas rave Sophie puts a tablet on Cole's tongue and hints that she may have taken it too. A woman snorts cocaine.
As mentioned, one character overdoses and dies after a night of wild partying.
Other Negative Elements
Cole is shown vomiting.
We Are Your Friends is a raw 'n' rude, hard-R tale of carnal excess.
We Are Your Friends is also a critique of its own bad behavior en route to an optimistic-but-flawed ending.
Let me explain: Explicit drug use, raunchy sex and nonstop profanity, here, are oddly hitched to a whiplash-inducing conclusion that's drenched in straight-up Disney "wish upon a star" earnestness. So by the time the credits roll, We Are Your Friends feels like one of the most strangely upbeat seriously foul movies you'll ever not really want to see.
The film also—perhaps unintentionally—offers a portrait of a generation of young people longing for meaning and purpose but unsure where or how to find it. For Cole Carter, electronic music offers an avenue to express his yearnings and deepest emotions, something that helps him—and his audiences—get in touch with what feels semi-transcendent.
But the transcendence here isn't of the spiritual variety. Instead, it's experiential—flesh-oriented moments of bliss and ecstasy courtesy of, well, Ecstasy and sex. Not to mention the pounding, pulsing beats.
Watching all the flailing around, both literally and figuratively, I couldn't help but feel some compassion for people trying so hard to tap into deeper meaning by mainlining some of the most powerful, seductive experiences in the world. And simultaneous sadness that their experiences here are so divorced from the authentic transcendence and intimacy God invites us to experience in relationship with Him.
That's something no tuneful track (no matter how hypnotic) or crazy party (no matter how cool) can ever replicate. And it's something this movie only illustrates by accident.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Zac Efron as Cole Carter; Wes Bentley as James Reed; Emily Ratajkowski as Sophie; Jonny Weston as Mason; Shiloh Fernandez as Ollie; Alex Shaffer as Squirrel; Jon Bernthal as Paige; Alicia Coppola as Mrs. Romero
Max Joseph ( )
August 28, 2015
November 17, 2015