Fair Weather ‘Friends’

Muddled DJ drama strains to appeal

Scotland’s Calvin Harris is the world’s highest paid DJ, with an annual $66 million haul, Forbes recently reported. That helps audiences understand why Zac Efron’s character in “We Are Your Friends” sees DJing as a ticket out of his blue-collar town.

The drama often doesn’t always know what it wants to do, or say, beyond that.

What eventually emerges is a fitfully smart story with a message that should matter to its youthful target audience. Inexperience shouldn’t stop you from following your dreams. Too bad the film’s rating will prevent some from hearing it.

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Efron stars as Cole, part of a tight-knit group of California pals pining for a better life. They play by day in between menial jobs, but they bottle up their charisma for the night. They help the local nightclubs promote their parties, using cheesy lines to lure young ladies in. It helps to be young, handsome and full of swagger. Only Cole wants something else — a successful career as a DJ.

He lucks into a friendship with James Reed (Wes Bentley sporting Wolverine’s ‘do), a veteran DJ who finds something worth nurturing in young Cole. The filmmakers can’t quite convince us of the same. His music sounds hopelessly … ordinary at first.

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Will Cole blossom under James’ tutelage, or will he keep shooting James’ girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski) moist glances?

How do you forge a career without risking your soul?

“We Are Your Friends” not only boasts the year’s worst movie title but a serious split personality. At times it’s a breezy look at the electronic music subculture. Then, it’s asking us to wonder about the youth of America and its short attention span. Next, you’ll think it’s a comedy about four knuckleheads who will do anything to get high. The camera ogles its comely female co-stars, another nod to a demographic the film isn’t sure it wants to chase.

The film’s drug subplots make little sense until the third act, but by then they feel more deliberate than sobering.

for-adultsStill, Efron captures the alienation of a young man torn between hedonistic pleasures and growing up. He may not look the part — he’s too pretty and perfectly coiffed to resemble a budding anarchist. The actor flashes a sensitivity that will surprise viewers.

So it’s a shame that “Friends” arrives with a justly earned “R” rating. Teens might appreciate Cole’s story and his frustrations over adulthood.

That move comes with more than a few costs, notably seen via Jon Bernthal’s shady real estate character. How do you forge a career without risking your soul?

“Friends” stumbles over other moral quandaries. Why doesn’t Cole resist the urge to flirt with James’ girlfriend? Does he reject how his pals dabble in the drug trade?

The final act is as clumsy as the rest of the tale. Still, the characters mature in ways that audiences will find refreshing.

“We Are Your Friends” could have headed in a number of dramatic directions. Instead, it bounces from genre to genre before stumbling upon an uplifting coda.

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