Amy Mackelden tries not to let her Catfish obsession cloud her judgement of Max Joseph’s directorial debut (still not forgiven you, Max, for missing all those episodes to go make your movie. Catfish ain’t Catfish without its silver fox!)
Max Joseph’s movie, starring Zac Efron, whose abs are as perfect as ever FYI, has taken a bit of a beating. This review in a UK newspaper particularly hated it, though I’d argue that the reviewer wasn’t remotely the target audience for this film, nor had they necessarily understood the nature of the movie’s message. Because We Are You Friends is the American Dream re-booted for 2015. And okay, I’ve made it sound really shit by saying that but, I promise, it’s not! And here’s a list of everything right in this movie (and for any failings it might have, the things it did right are many, varied and DayGlo).
1. It’s like a male version of Springbreakers
Do we need a male version of Springbreakers, I hear you ask? I mean obviously no we don’t. Springbreakers was slick in its dissemination of the female ownership of the male gaze, the power of consent, alongside internal struggles with religion, redemption and morality, and its celebration of James Franco’s truly creeper demeanour. Plus it celebrated the fuck out of Britney Spears: I could not ask for more. Instead, We Are Your Friends subtles it up, and although we’re given a generous smattering of Efron torso, the male version isn’t preoccupied with the exploitation of its leads (although Zac Efron is arguably AS objectified in real life as, say, Ashley Benson).
It’s greatest commonality with Springbreakers is in its preoccupation with depression. Both movies are about young people clawing at their worlds, which they’re trapped by, trying to find ways out or identities within, without selling their personalities to the lowest bidder. The four friends in WAYF need money. They don’t want to compromise their dreams, because in the midst of a devastating financial climate, and by never quite elevating themselves to the calibre they hope through trashy jobs at clubs, they all end up working for Shane from The Walking Dead, who is still playing the most supremely sexy cunt on screen you’ll be pleased to hear (should’ve killed Rick when you had the chance, brah!). In WAYF, under the guise of helping people who are about to default on their mortgages, Shane (the name I will always remember him by) buys properties from desperate people for tiny amounts of cash. He’s this film’s Franco, without the dreads or charisma or piano-stylings, but he helps create the climate our lead characters are cogs within. They want out but they want money more.
2. It’s super super stylish
Music, central to Springbreakers also, is the romantic lead in WAYF, and although it’s cheesy as fuck at times, there are some lush moments of cinematic prowess which show what Max Joseph can do aside from holding a hand-cam on Catfish. There’s DayGlo, amaze screen graphics, a cartoon Zac Efron, drug-highs, inventive subtitling, and a soundtrack that keeps the pace, moves us forward, keeps it interesting. It doesn’t look like the cheapo teen-vehicle you might expect from a Zac film. It looks real nice, and it’s not afraid to be eccentric.
3. It understands the new American Dream
The boldest thing about WAYF is the way in which it understands its audience and the way we interact with our worlds. As the intro states, you no longer need to have the right education, or a certain amount of money, or the perfect connections (although all those things totes help). You really can make it in life by starting a blog, putting music online, publishing your own work, and developing your own audience. This is the way things work now, and it was super great to watch a film in which the lead didn’t miraculously win a competition in the New Yorker and have a superb publishing career off the back of it. Nothing happened to this character that couldn’t happen in real life. Sure, Zac met a more successful DJ who helped him along, but the hard work was all him. I’m sure most of you are ready to vomit at the thought of a film intent on selling you some new age American Dream BS, but the fact that the script didn’t rely on the luck of its character winning some ridiculously prestigious competition that none of us ordinary Joes would be likely to win IRL, was refreshing. I could relate.
4. Wes Fucking Bentley
Just take a moment to think over those three magically words once more. Wes Fucking Bentley. That horror movie, pristine-faced motherfucker. Made my day to see him again, I can tell you.
5. The other characters don’t completely suck
So, not everything that happens in the script is surprising. There’s the usual unobtainable love interest, the dorky friend who has the hand of death on his shoulder throughout the whole fucking movie, and the slightly dumber jerks who deal drugs and do carpentry a la Channing Tatum in Magic Mike. But they’re rarely terrible. The love interest, played by Emily Ratajkowsk, is alternative and sarcastic enough to not make us hate her, plus her life pretty much sucks too, so she’s relatable at least some of the time. When she started work in a Vegan cafe, I was a little bit in love, I won’t lie. Plus Shane from The Walking Dead is never not interesting. And did I mention Wes Fucking Bentley. JUST YES!
6. It’s not trying to be original (and that’s a good thing)
Despite reviews calling WAYF out for being unoriginal, I’d say that this is actually a positive thing. The movie knows that it’s part of a well-versed genre of movies, and it’s carving out a tiny slice of that for itself. It does break new ground, particularly in its insistence that we can make something of ourselves with a laptop if we want to (hell, the Catfish phenomenon sprung from the tiniest internet story, when you think about it), but it’s also happy being a movie about friendship, music and not much else.
7. It’s like Step Up but for DJs
I’m sure there are other DJ movies. But this one is absolutely bang on the money for its audience. The way that Step Up put dance back into mainstream cinema, WAYF shows us what modern DJ-ing is all about. All you need is a laptop. Does this make you a wanker? Probably. But it works because it keeps it simple.
8. Zac Efron ain’t half bad
I don’t care if you believe me or not. This High School Musical douche is all grown up. As if Bad Neighbours wasn’t proof enough, he can carry a film. If you don’t like it, then don’t watch it. More abs for me.
In Conclusion, if you like any or all of the following this movie is for you:
Catfish, Zac Efron’s torso, sick beats (fuck off Taylor Swift and your copyright claim), bright colours, serial-killer-style hotties and a belief that you can make something of yourself no matter what in the internet age!
And as an aside, I took a 42 year old man to see this movie and he didn’t hate it! He even commented on how great the cinematography was afterwards. So suck it, haters!
Amy Mackelden (a.k.a. July 2061) is a writer based on the Isle of Wight. Her writing has featured in places such as heat magazine, New Statesman online, anthologies from Cinnamon Press, Leaf Books and the Emma Press. She won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North in 2011 and a New Buds Award from New Writing South in 2015. She’s one of the co-founders of poetry magazine Butcher’s Dog, and has made two spoken word/theatre shows, The 8 Fatal Mistakes of Online Dating (& How To Avoid Them), & Retail, which is set in a closed-down Blockbuster & about a shared love of Woody Allen. Her blog, July 2061, was shortlisted in the Blog North Awards 2012. She is totally, 100%, are you fucking kidding me, Team Krakow.