‘We Are Your Friends’ Reviews: Does Zac Efron DJ Drama Hit the Right Notes?

Critics are mixed on this coming-of-age drama co-starring Emily Ratajkowski

Last Updated: August 27, 2015 @ 8:36 PM

Zac Efron‘s pretty face and sweet beats may be the only thing that keeps his new DJ drama, “We Are Your Friends,” from flatlining, according to critics.

The coming-of-age story follows an aspiring DJ (Efron) from the San Fernando Valley as he tries to break into the Los Angeles music scene. Emily Ratajkowski (“Gone Girl”) and Wes Bentley (“Interstellar”) co-star in the film drawing mixed reviews ahead of its opening weekend. With just a 43 percent approval rating from critics counted so far on Rotten Tomatoes, negative reactions cite a boring storyline, the jarring special effects and Ratajkowski’s lackluster performance.

TheWrap’s film critic Alonso Duralde noted that the “only thing ‘We Are Your Friends’ has going for it is the occasional directorial flourish with words on screen or characters addressing the camera or that painterly drug trip. These jolts are few and far between, but they’re most welcome when they arise.”

Other critics, such as Caitlin Moore of The Washington Post, have shunned director Max Joseph‘s cinematographic experiments and his use of the onscreen graphics and animation.

“The first half of the movie uses it with mixed success: A vision of a heart pumping at 128 beats per minute, as if seen through an X-ray, is impressive, while words that pop up onscreen as characters speak them seems cheesy, in the manner of a YouTube lyric video. By the end, though, the original bits fade as easily as one song bleeds into another.”

Jesse Hassenger from A.V. Club goes a step further to criticize Joseph’s camera work, comparing it to his work on MTV’s “Catfish,” on which he served as cameraman and host alongside Nev Schulman.

“The vast emptiness at the movie’s center has become unintentionally funny,” says Hassenger. “As with ‘Catfish,’ Joseph is there with his soulful handheld camera-bobbing, trying to convey the pensive thoughtfulness of a person who may not be thinking all that much.”

Critics didn’t fail to give their two cents about the actors, either. It seemed that nothing could go wrong with this visually pleasing collection of stars — Ratajkowski, Bentley and Efron — all of whom are extremely attractive people caught in a love triangle. Yet most weren’t too happy with Ratajkowski’s performance, whose main purpose was to cause conflict between the two hunks, and “draw a crowd into a partying frenzy” with “her tiny [dance] moves,” in Hassenger’s eyes at least.

Vanity Fair critic Richard Lawson through Ratajkowski played a “bland” love interest, while Glenn Kenny wrote for RogerEbert.com that she is “delightful to look upon.” Both were more or less on the same page about Bentley’s charming and enticing performance, while critics were more torn about Efron.

Soren Andersen from The Seattle Times wrote, “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.”

And LA Weekly‘s Amy Nicholson agrees: “Efron, one of our best young actors, gives the movie more than it needs: if not quite gravitas, an emotional tempo. […] Even when he smiles, his blue eyes look as if they’re leaking tears.”

Mark Hughes from Forbes, on the other hand, felt that Efron’s performance was lackluster and boring.

“Efron isn’t really challenged to be much more than attractive, hip, and mildly emotive when personal desires are at the forefront of the story,” he wrote. “But it’s a performance that for the most part feels empty of emotion, as if he’s sleepwalking through the story most of the time.

Lastly, critics wished the film hadn’t strayed away from the music Efron’s character is trying to share with the world.

“When it sticks to the music, which is about 50 percent of the time, ‘We Are Your Friends’ is a success,” San Francisco Chronicle‘s Peter Hartlaub opined. “And when it strays to matters of love, friendship and loss, the film is predictable, slow and jarringly contrived.”

But the movie received a few raves.

“It’s being marketed like another ‘Entourage’ movie, but Max Joseph‘s ‘We Are Your Friends’ is a little more interesting and a good deal smarter,”Norman Wilner from Now Think Free wrote. “It follows a pretty familiar arc, but it hits the required beats with style and a couple of surprisingly well-considered performances.”

“Like its protagonist, “We Are Your Friends” is sentimental, eager to please, and full of energy,” Ben Sachs of Reader wrote.

“We Are Your Friends” hit theaters on Friday.