Zac Efron’s New Movie Spawns the Saddest Club Night Ever
On a Friday night at San Francisco’s Mezzanine nightclub, it’s rare to have a line down the block before 9PM. Tonight, though, is different. None of the DJs have started playing yet, but there’s a bigger crowd waiting here now than there was for an Outside Lands after-show featuring STRFKR and Classixx—and most of the people here are for Zac Efron.
They’ve come from a screening of We Are Your Friends, starring Efron as an aspiring DJ in a ragtag group of San Fernando Valley hustlers trying to escape suburban existence. (The title comes from the Justice remix of Simian’s “Never Be Alone.”)
A typical press day involves a movie studio renting a hotel room and then cycling reporters through to talk with actors or directors about an upcoming film. For We Are Your Friends, Warner Bros. staged a tour, heading to a small group of cities and scheduling press interviews at night in clubs. The result is the saddest VIP section imaginable: a bunch of Bay Area journalists in an office above the stage, sipping champagne and waiting for Efron, co-star Emily Ratajkowski (Entourage, the “Blurred Lines” video), and director Max Joseph (aka The Other Guy from MTV’s Catfish) to arrive.
* * *
We Are Your Friends arrives in theaters at an unexpectedly lucky time. NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton is expected to top the box office charts for the third week in a row, the first hip-hop biopic to do so. But Joseph’s film isn’t about enshrining already-legendary artists, it’s about the EDM genre, and how the allure of a jet-setting lifestyle can lead to soul-sucking compromise.
This isn’t the first film to take on the music-festival life or the genre du jour: Tonight You’re Mine literally handcuffs together Victor Frankenstein from Penny Dreadful and Osha from Game Of Thrones for a rom-com at Scotland’s T In The Park, and MTV’s No Cameras Allowed offers a guerrilla-style documentary glimpse of music festival photography through the eyes of somebody trying to “make it” just like Efron’s Cole Carter. But WAYF also isn’t some tiny independent production about a still-emerging scene. It’s a major studio effort based purely on marketing. Music festivals are big business—as is EDM—and anything that popular ignites Hollywood’s desire to capitalize.
POSSO, a female DJ duo from Los Angeles, warms up the crowd still pouring in off the street, while Australian DJ Thomas Jack fiddles with his laptop, making last-minute adjustments for his set. Other people milling about the green room ask Jack if he’s up for partying that night, but he’s got a 6AM flight the next day. It’s a similarly grueling schedule for Efron, Ratajkowski, and Joseph. “We travel during the day, land, go introduce a screening, go have 45 minutes of dinner and then go right into the interviews,” says Ratajkowski. “It doesn’t feel like a Friday night.” By the time headliner Anna Lunoe hits the stage, everyone in the green room looks exhausted, since the night’s schedule is already well behind.
The people who gleefully throw their bodies around the floor at Mezzanine won’t be expecting to walk into a film that shows electronic music in such a pragmatic light. At one point, Efron’s character breaks down a brief history of genres that have influenced EDM—reggae, house, dubstep—by tempo, and then states that his preferred style is to grab a listener’s heart between the speeds of 120-128 BPM. (It’s a laughable scene in some ways, but it’s far better than the one in which one of Cole’s buddies reprimands a kid with the line, “Don’t ‘bro’ me before you know me.”)
Efron has enthusiastically compared the film to Saturday Night Fever, and the similarities are plentiful, with parallels between their not-quite-cosmopolitan locations (Brooklyn vs. San Fernando Valley) and divisive, synthetic music genres (disco vs. EDM). But ultimately, We Are Your Friends is pulled apart by its competing urges. On one hand, it hammers out advice like “Imitation is suicide,” but it’s also littered with get-rich-quick voiceover and straight-to-camera addresses about the business of electronic music, how someone only needs “a laptop, some talent, and one song” in order to hit the big time and live in luxury.
At its climax, Cole breaks away from his friends, finds inspiration in the world outside his headphones, and burrows into his own feelings. To hear Efron tell it in the club, that’s the true message of the movie–and of acting. “Taking the hardships of life and turning it into art is what you’re put here to do,” he says. “If you can find that one thing that can turn your pain or your fear into music, or a character, then that’s really special.” But the film fails to make clear whether that’s commentary on achieving success you no longer want, or simply doesn’t recognize what’s lost when turning emotional turmoil into commercial product. And at the end of the night, when Efron, Ratajkowski, and director Joseph make a brief appearance onstage, the crowd eats it up—despite it being a naked ploy to drive people to see the film. It’s the perfect moment for a film that wants to capitalize on a massively popular genre while also being a cautionary tale about success.
We Are Your Friends doesn’t want to bite the hand that feeds. It doesn’t want to declare EDM “over” or condemn the festival lifestyle. It’s a hedged bet, caught between being a love letter for clubgoers who make a yearly pilgrimage to the Electric Daisy Carnival and an indictment of the genre’s runaway success. Next to a classic like Saturday Night Fever, We Are Your Friends isn’t even a remix. It’s a DJ playing the original song on an iPod.
See original article: