A Quickie With Lisa Marie: We Are Your Friends (dir by Max Joseph)


We_Are_Your_Friends

So, this morning, I read some of the harsh reviews that mainstream critics have given the new film We Are Your Friends and I have to admit that I’m starting to get a little ticked off.

That’s not to say that We Are Your Friends is a very good movie.  I saw it last night with my BFF Evelyn and we enjoyed it but mostly, that was because we talked through almost the entire movie.  And yes, I know that it’s rude to talk through a movie but seriously, the theater was nearly deserted.  When we bought our tickets, there was a huge crowd of people gathered outside the theater but it turns out that they were all buying tickets for War Room.

Anyway, We Are Your Friends tells the story of Cole (Zac Efron), a DJ who lives with three idiot friends (who are so identical to the group from Entourage that one of them is even named Squirrel).  He spends his days working at a mortgage company and his nights DJing.  Then he meets James (Wes Bentley), a formerly great DJ who is on his way down.  James takes Cole under his wing and mentors him and teaches him how to get a room dancing.  But, Cole ends up falling in love with James’s abused girlfriend, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), which leads to… well, it leads to exactly what you think it’s going to lead to.  Storywise, We Are Your Friends is not going to win any points for originality.

While we were watching the movie, Evelyn and I agreed that Zac Efron is a strange actor.  I mean, yes, he’s hot and yes, he’s talented enough that he can walk while delivering his lines but, at the same time, his dramatic performances always feel oddly empty.  You watch him and you get the feeling that he’s still trying way too hard to prove that there’s more to him than just High School Musical.  He’s like the guy who you have crush on until you actually get to know him and discover that, beyond his looks, he’s really not that interesting.  Efron always seems to be putting in a lot of effort but, whenever you watch one of his performances, you get the feeling that there’s not much going on underneath the beautiful surface.  For all intents and purposes, Zac Efron is the anti-Gosling.

And some movies have made good use of Efron’s limits.  He was perfectly cast in Me and Orson Welles, for instance.  And he’s good in comedies, where he can play against his good looks.  But in a film like We Are Your Friends, where you’re actually supposed to have some sort of emotional stake in his hopes and dreams, Efron just feels miscast.

That said, I still enjoyed We Are Your Friends and I think that a lot of the reviews have been a bit too harsh.  Why did I enjoy the movie?  It all comes down to the music and the dancing.  If you love EDM, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in We Are Your Friends.  And if you’re not into EDM — well, then fuck off.  I could sit here and write another 500 words about how clichéd the storyline is but, ultimately, that’s not what the film is about.  The film is about the music.  The film is about the ecstasy of dancing all night and then waking up with the beats still playing in your head.  At its best, that’s what this film captures.  It’s not a great film.  A month from now, I have a feeling that it’ll be a struggle to remember much about We Are Your Friends.  But I’ll probably still be listening to the soundtrack.

That’s what a lot of the harsh reviews are missing but then again, most mainstream film reviews are written by people who are too old to appreciate EDM in the first place.  EDM is music for people who are young and who are still capable of enjoying the present and dreaming about the future.  Boring old mainstream critics will never get it and that’s why the reviews of We Are Your Friends feel so condescending.  The critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes reads: “We Are Your Friends boasts magnetic stars and glimmers of insight, but they’re lost in a clichéd coming-of-age story as programmed as the soundtrack’s beats.”  Now I know how those Christians who went to see War Room feel whenever a reviewer thinks he’s being clever when he says that one of their films “doesn’t have a prayer.”  It’s all so condescending and cutesy.

Listen, We Are Your Friends is not a particularly good film.  But it’s not as bad as you might think.  The plot is bad but the music is good and really, isn’t that the point?

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Film Review: Win Win (dir. by Thomas McCarthy)


When I watched the pilot episode of Game Of Thrones, I got very excited when I saw that Thomas McCarthy was credited as the director.  Now, McCarthy isn’t a household name but chances are, you’ve seen him.  He played the plagiarist journalist in the final season of The Wire.  He was John Cusack’s romantic rival in 2012.  He was nominated for an Academy Award for co-writing the Pixar film Up.  However, McCarthy has received most of his critical acclaim as the director of low-key, character dramas like The Station Agent and The Visitor.  I have to admit that I was shocked to see McCarthy’s name linked to Game of Thrones because, with the exception of Peter Dinklage, it appeared to have nothing in common with his previous films.  Well, turns out that I wasn’t the only one who thought that because apparently, despite McCarthy being credited as the director, the majority of the pilot was actually reshot (quite well) by Tim Van Patten.

So, you might not be seeing Thomas McCarthy’s work on television but fortunately, you can still catch it in the movie theaters.  McCarthy’s latest film is a surprisingly poignant comedy called Win Win.

InWin Win, Mike (played by Paul Giamatti) is an attorney who works and lives in small New Jersey town.  Mike is married to Jackie (Amy Ryan), owns a big house, helps to coach the high school’s mediocre wrestling team, and can’t pay his bills.  Rather than let his family know that he’s on the verge of going broke, Mike instead becomes the legal guardian of one of his clients, the increasingly senile Leo (Burt Young).  In return to acting as Leo’s guardian, Mike receives a payment.  He also promises to take care of Leo so that Leo doesn’t have to enter a nursing home.  However, since Mike is played by Paul Giamatti, it doesn’t come as much of a shock that Mike promptly moves Leo out of his home and into the nursing home.  Leo, however, is too senile to understand that he’s being taken advantage of and all of Mike’s second thoughts disappear as soon as he gets the first check.

However, things get complicated once Leo’s delinquent grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up looking for his grandfather.  Mike takes Kyle to see Leo and soon finds out that Kyle’s mother (and Leo’s daughter) Jill (Melanie Lynesky) is currently in drug rehab and Kyle has nowhere to go.  Reluctantly, he and Jackie agree to allow Kyle to stay with their family until his mother gets out of rehab.

While Kyle, at first, seems to just be an inarticulate drop out, he quickly reveals to himself to actually be a very intelligent (if very angry) young man.  Even better, from Mike’s point-of-view, Kyle is a former wrestling champion.  Mike arranges for Kyle to enroll in the local high school and join the wrestling team.  With Kyle now on the team, they actually start to win matches.  Suddenly, everything is starting to look up for Mike.  He’s a town hero, Jackie starts to bond with Kyle, and Leo remains unaware of how Mike is taking advantage of him.

And then, Kyle’s mom shows up and everything pretty much goes to Hell.

Win Win is the latest entry in the genre of film known as Paul Giamatti Has A MidLife Crisis.  The fact that the film remains interesting despite being the thousandth time that we’ve seen Giamatti have a midlife crisis is a tribute to both McCarthy’s intelligent script and Giamatti’s excellent lead performance.  Giamatti could play these roles in his sleep and the fact that he doesn’t is what makes him such a consistently interesting character actor.  Giamatti gets strong support from Shaffer and especially Ryan.  However, my favorite performance in the film came from Bobby Cannavale, who plays Giamatti’s loyal if somewhat dull-witted best friend.  Cannavale shows that you can give a very smart performance playing dumb and hopefully, his performance here well lead to greater things for him.

Now, I have to admit — I know nothing about wrestling.  Actually, I know less than nothing about wrestling.  And, to be honest, I really don’t care if I ever know anything about it.  Yet this film, which centered around wrestling, held my attention because McCarthy, as a director, uses the wrestling story to portray something universal.  His direction here is never flashy nor is it technically perfect.  (To be honest, I counted three appearances by the boom mic.)  McCarthy isn’t a polished director but that lack of polish works to this film’s advantage.  He may not have been the right director for Game of Thrones but he was obviously just what Win Win needed.