WAYF has 20-ish minutes that are satisfying, and heck, I ain’t afraid to say it, pretty fun. Sadly, the remaining 76 or so minutes are a wasteland of brainless shenanigans in line with your worst expectations. To no one’s surprise, this picture is about one young man’s journey to drag and drop his perfect track. Zac Efron plays our hero, DJ Cole Carter, at the outset of his bildungs-bro-man. We open on the salad days. Tethered to his laptop, dropped out of college, playing the dreaded Thursday, 9 p.m. DJ set in the side room at the local club, Cole and his bros are just trying to get out of San Fernando Valley.
His bros are painful, die cut supporting male archetypes in NEFF tank tops with hastily tacked on snake person names. Mason, Ollie, and ‘Squirrel.’ I guess Braden and Taylor got struck down in the focus group. One is the fast talking schemer, the other is the moody drug dealer and/or aspiring actor, and the third is just a good, sweet, supportive friend. Which is which? Does not matter. WAYF could not do less to invest you in these ding dongs. And I mean that. The only way to further underserve these characters would be to, I don’t know, replace them Hollister pop-up ads?
The story turns when Cole meets Bro-losopher King and Superstar DJ James Reed. He takes a shine to Cole after a pretty sweet PCP scene, and this sets up what is the worst and best parts of this film. James and Cole will, on occasion, talk about music, and this is good. Educational, thoughtful, insightful, WAYF can pull together some genuine sequences about music. There is palpable life breathed into their creative effort, and they even manage to challenge some of the obvious complaints leveled against music that is little more than zeroes and ones. In a couple of artfully rendered sequences, they almost brush up against something relatable and, dare I say it, magical.
The downside of the James Reed storyline is really the thing—and the thinking—that makes everything the worst. Bros, everyone take a knee; we gotta talk. Dylan, headphones off, I need you to listen. We’ve got to find a better way for women in coming-of-age stories. Women are not made more real because they're wounded Stanford dropouts. Women do not need a defense of their honor with fisticuffs because some jackass implies she’s a loose woman (whatever the hell that means). Women are not earthbound goddesses there to serves as fulcrum for your handheld shot post-rave-mid-roll ethereal sexcapade fantasy. Women are not a plot point used to drive bros apart. Women are not swinging hips and full breasts for your slow motion, wide-eyed objectification. Stop. Just stop. Women are, believe it or not, humans. Your peers. Your equals. And I believe once you strive to embrace what really should be a very straight forward reality, everything gets better. Great talk, bros. I believe in you.
Sadly, Emily Ratajkowski, as Sophie, is consumed by all the terribleness above and it swallows what little potential WAYF momentarily has in its reach. But I do like one moment yielded from this slop. James tries to convey to Cole that at some point every life crosses the plain of irreparable, and that’s when you realize this twenty-something EDM fantasy was totally written by a sad 33 year old. And then you watch a bunch of chiseled 20-somethings drunkenly sing classic rock radio staple, “Santeria,” and I realize I’m 1,000 years old.
After that, WAYF tries to fold in some drama, but it’s far too heavy for this vehicle and the story is too far gone. This clumsy tragic turn forges the way for Cole’s inspiration, and our last gasp is finally about the music again. Admittedly, it suckered me in pretty good. Zac Efron puts his all into his final scene, and I’m confident he’ll find his role someday. The kids is gonna be alright, but as he screeches, “Are we ever going to be better than this,” into a microphone during our climactic moment at Summerfest, the answer is maybe, but not today, brah.