Former-High School Musical star takes on new demographic
Though Zac Efron left the spotlight after High School Musical 3, he has returned to the big screen to perform for a different crowd. Efron plays a character named Cole in the new release We Are Your Friends. Cole is a struggling, self-proclaimed DJ looking for a way into the business. The movie is narrated by Cole, who, throughout the film, explains the incredible hold music can have over people, specifically electronic dance music. He and his three closest friends, Mason (Jonny Weston), Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez) and Squirrel (Alex Shaffer) struggle in the San Fernando Valley to make their dreams a reality. What makes the movie so dynamic is that each friend has his own goals in life, and each has a corresponding moral code. Viewers see all of their mindsets shifting throughout the movie.
Mason is the more reckless friend, starting fights, doing drugs and club-hopping. Ollie wants to become an actor but he slowly digresses from that dream when he realizes that there is an easier way to get money—scamming people while holding his position in real estate.
Squirrel is the person Cole confides in the most. He is level headed and truly believes and understands that there is something greater out there for him and his friends. While they all seem to be on different paths in their lives, their friendship comes together with EDM.
EDM, which bears a negative stigma given some of its effects on youth, is a very well-known genre of music in the United States. One of the issues people have brought up pertaining to this film is whether the filmmakers glamorized drug use or showcased the authenticity of what can happen at a music festival.
Within the first 15 minutes of the movie, Cole is at a club where a famous EDM DJ is playing and leaves to light a cigarette. There, he notices James Reed, a celebrity to whom he offers a cigarette, instantly striking up a conversation. As they speak, Reed offers him THC, known as the common ingredient in cannabis that induces a relaxation state as well as an increased appetite. James then takes Cole to an art gala opening and that is when Cole realizes that the THC was laced with PCP, or what many call “angel dust.” Hallucinogenic drugs were introduced within 30 minutes. All of the people in the film morph into colors, reflecting the effects of Cole tripping on the drugs.
The movie portrayed the use of drugs as a way to become one with the crowd and music. This idea of drug use bringing people together comes up again at Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival. Reed’s girlfriend, Sophie, sneaks away to find Cole and puts a tablet in his mouth.
They begin dancing together, passionately kissing and soon enough, they break away from the crowd and explore Las Vegas. This montage of memories of 20-year-olds exploring landmarks and falling in love has been repeatedly portrayed in movies.
While the use of drugs and alcohol was glamorized in some parts of the film, there were parts that brought light to the broader issues. In the Summerfest scene, Cole and his friends snuck in bundles of drugs. When the security guard was checking to see if they were clean, the detector went off and Squirrel pulled out his phone. Assuming that the phone was the cause of the alarm, the guard let him pass through. This implies that it is easy for people to sneak drugs into festivals and speaks to how security measures should be implemented to avoid problems like drug overdose in such drug-fueled environments.
The film also depicted an overdose scene followed by a funeral. After that horrific incident, the friends that remained changed. There is always a turning point in films when something traumatic happens that causes the characters to shift or change, whether it is for better or worse.
Although the negative aspects of the genre and subculture were explored, the beautiful parts of EDM were also shown in the film. The movie offered viewers explanations as to how a track is created and what makes a track good. In the end, Cole was able to unplug and listen to the sounds around him and use it for a beat to create a track that was so individualized that it was unrecognizable.
He used the sound of wind chimes, keyboards, his friend’s voice and his own inner turmoil as he deals with the passing of his friend. Cole used his past experiences to create a sound no one has heard before, allowing his audience to connect to him. It is hard to separate the use of drugs from EDM, but they do not have to be a package deal.
The use of hallucinogenic drugs is not necessary to enjoy the company of others, nor the incredible music that beats through the speakers. The drugs are not what bring the crowd together. It is the music that makes the crowd dance.