We Are Your Friends
A not so guarded secret amongst my close friends is that I kind of have a thing for stupid dance genre movies. I can watch them pretty much any time they are on. You Got Served. Stomp the Yard. Step Up. Step Up 2: The Streetz. Step Up 3D! Step Up REVOLUTION! I once even almost went to a free advanced screening of Battle of the Year. That's the movie where Sawyer from Lost teaches known criminal Chris Brown (among other people) how to be a world champion b-boys, and they go to a b-boy world championship to represent America. I almost put on pants and left my house to actively drive to a free screening of this. I forgot why I didn't end up going? Maybe common sense finally kicked in? I don't know. But just to let you know, I have since watched it on HBO.
I'm just fascinated by inane subcultures. In these dance movies, the characters prepare for their dancing as if the entire world was fueled by their sweaty, krumping energy. In the world of these movies, dancing is seemingly as important as mainstream sporting events. They have announcers commentating on the competitions. They're televised! I'm not sure where, but somewhere! (maybe on ESPN 8, the Ocho?) In Drumline, another guilty pleasure film, they've filled up an entire football stadium just to watch a football halftime show competition. Do things like this actually exist? I'm not sure. But I've secretly always wanted to be invited to an abandoned parking garage where a 2000 person crowd is watching people dance aggressively at each other. It's so stupid that it mesmerizes me. I literally get hypnotized by the triviality. I think if someone made a gritty, well-made film about a group of juggalos training to be the world Faygo chugging champions at an underground, televised carnival against a Russian juggalo team; my brain would peak out meaningless interest to the point where I might go into a coma.
And this brings us to another brand new film genre of frivolous subculture: the DJ movie. Really, it makes sense to explore this area, because how could anyone stomp the yard without a guy providing the music with which to stomp? The yards would go unstomped. This movie follows Zach Efron (who I will refer to as such, and not look up his character's name) and his three friends as they try to make something of themselves in San Fernando Valley, California. Along the way, Efron meets an "aged" DJ, played by Wes Bentley (the American Ewan McGregor), who kiiiiiind of takes him under his wing and teaches him about how crappy his life will potentially be by becoming a DJ, all while Efron simultaneously tries to sleep with Bentley's girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski).
But the movie actually gets a way better treatment than the subject matter probably deserves. The marketing kind of made it seem like another crappy dance movie-esk trainwreck (which is probably why it was one of the worst openings of all time for a movie in over 2,000 theaters), but it actually had a nice production to it. The story wasn't as stupid as I thought it would be. It was more of a coming-of-age movie than a pointless competition movie. It took risks stylistically with animations and flashy editing that definitely paid off. There are a few scenes in this movie that I *really* liked, and will probably remember for a while. Wes Bentley also knocks it out of the park in a movie no one went to go see. That scene in the neon red bathroom where he really explains why life doesn't even matter until you're 30 was brilliant. That was a weird sentence to write.
Praise, however, doesn't come without flaws in the DJ film genre; of which We Are Your Friends may be the only movie... It definitely gets heavy-handed towards the end, for almost no reason, and really saps the fun out of the previous hour of the movie. Also, it probably bites off more than it can chew. I mean, does a movie about a handsome DJ making bleep bloop noises really need to also try to tackle the downsides of the American housing market? Because that's like a decent chunk of the movie; whether Efron should follow his dreams as a DJ or crush people's dreams as a swindling real estate mogul. WHAT DO YOU THINK HE'LL CHOOSE?
It also doesn't help that Efron's "game-changing" song at Summer Fest (you might as well just call it Music Fest, or DJ Fest, at that point), starts out as just a series of noises he recorded while jogging one day. HELICOPTER BLADES. COIN SPIN. COIN SPIN. POWER LINES. COIN SPIN. HELICOPTER BLADES. "I think I've got something...!" he says to Bentley. It's so stupid and bad that it almost feels genuine. Oh well, seemed like the fake movie crowd really ate it up.
I'm a little bummed out that more people probably wont ever see this movie, probably because it looks stupid and has a really dumb movie title. It still totally falls into the my obsession with dumb subcultures, but it's like a bad dance movie that was written by a romantic, jaded poet laureate; but then re-written again by a guy who takes amateur DJing way too seriously. There are elements of both in there. It's deliciously fresh, gourmet cream cheese spread on a week-old bagel. And trust me, I'll still eat that and enjoy it, even though I shouldn't.
7.5 out of 10
Yes, halftime shows are a Thing. Drum lines are Serious Business. Fathom Events regularly does theater screenings of these, nationwide, with the same seriousness they show for their Metropolitan Opera telecasts.
I think the last dance-oriented movie I went to the theater to see was the original Dirty Dancing, so I'm not going to have much to contribute to this one.
Scott - you did not mention it, but surely there must have been a youth center threatened by a real estate tycoon - and the kids hold a break dancing contest to raise money to save the day.
I guess there is a market for dance oriented movies (12 year old girls and their moms) - though that is probably not the market for a DJ movie.
If you google "We are your friends" it is amazing the cross section of journalism about this movie:
US Magazine (second only to the Washington Post in journalistic quality) says "Zac Efron's Film...totally bombed at the box office" - but the "story" is just two short paragraphs with Zac's tweets as the primary source.
It is actually amazing to see how articles are written based upon nothing more than tweets.
Vulture.com says "How We Are Your Friends and Other August Flops Were Maimed by Bad Marketing"
from the article, which gives US Weekly a lesson in entertainment writing:
"The poor opening is also in keeping with a pattern that’s spanned the month of August. The weekend of August 8, Meryl Streep’s Ricki and the Flash opened to $6.6 million in 1,603 theaters — on target with estimates, but Streep’s lowest-opening wide release since Lions for Lambs in 2007. Two weeks later, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart’s American Ultra bombed harder, taking in $5.6 million from 2,778 theaters. American Ultra’s rough start sent its screenwriter, Max Landis, on a Twitter rant that led him to a conclusion folks have been batting around for years now, ever since the onslaught of superhero movies and franchise installations began in earnest: “big level original ideas don't $.”
Although this is true in a very first-look sense — the highest-grossing original live-action release of 2015 is San Andreas, at No. 13, and San Andreas doesn’t scream “original” — it also overshadows a larger trend. The problem with all three of these movies is that potential moviegoers didn’t understand what they were. The ads conveyed little information about the central idea, much less a sense of what kind of tone, genre, or atmosphere could be expected. None of the three had solid enough reviews to lend them a prestige feeling, meaning tone, genre, and atmosphere should’ve been their stock in trade. In a time when concepts and franchises, not actors, are becoming the primary determinant of a movie's success, these three movies highlighted their stars and little else. The marketing failed them."
In other words, it may actually be an ok movie, the studio just didn't know how to market it.
Not a new problem.
I don't think you can say the trailer for American Ultra was vague: I got a very good sense of the movie, as usual these days, it tended to give away *too much* plot and ruin some of the best visual surprises or jokes.
I saw the trailer for Ultra online quite a while ago, and I DO wanna see it. I think the issue at heart, for me personally at least, is more about discretionary income and the economy: I can't afford to see every new movie of interest that comes out at the theatre, so I triage my viewing, saving the theatre for the biggest blockbusters and/or movies where the massive screen size and thumping sound system makes all the difference in overall enjoyment. The rest, I get to on redbox or via a streaming service, or local DVD rental store. "Ultra" is on my redbox list, but if I have a free saturday morning and it's available at the matinee price, I *might* go see it on the big screen.
"The Martian"?, oh heck yes, that's gonna be a BIG SCREEN experience for me. And "SPECTRE". Streep, I can enjoy from my couch.