Zac Efron & The Annoying Attractive Male Friend Movie Trope

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
It’s the summer of the squad, with even The New York Times commenting on how everywhere you look, female friendship is magic and powerful, buffeted by its patron saint, Taylor Swift. The seasonal offerings at the box office, however, tell a completely different story. The summer of 2015 was bookended by two tales as old as time: movies about groups of bros.

On June 3, the Entourage movie hit the big screen (and promptly bombed). On August 28, Zac Efron stars in the EDM Bildungsroman of our time, We Are Your Friends. As much as the trailer makes it appear to be about Efron’s character, Cole Carter, romancing Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) while working to become a successful electronic music producer and DJ, the story centers on a group of childhood friends from the San Fernando Valley who have a whole lot of heart and a bunch of dreams. They’re just like Vinny and the boys from Entourage back when they were living in Queens. In fact, this tale of a Charismatic Male With A Dream and His Supportive Bros Who Want To Help Him Achieve That Dream Through Clever Hustling and Schemes is one that pops up in movies a lot.

“I think there's something timeless about the group of male friends on the cusp of adulthood, kind of graduating from being kids and trying to figure out what they're doing with their lives,” says Max Joseph, who directed We Are Your Friends and co-wrote the screenplay. “There is an odd cinematic tradition of these films about a group of guys in their early 20s from the wrong side of the tracks, trying to figure out what to do with their lives. You know, like Mean Streets does it.”

Aiming high, Joseph also mentions I Vitelloni (1953), Saturday Night Fever (1977), and Trainspotting (1996) as his other cinematic sources of inspiration for Cole and his core group: Mason (Jonny Weston), Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), and Squirrel (Alex Shaffer). (Apparently, it's a requirement that one character in the bro pack have an animal-inspired nickname. See: Turtle in Entourage.)

He also drew real-life inspiration from a group of club promoters he met while living with a friend in the Valley when he was 19. “I was fascinated by these guys…They were kind of all charming rogues and hustlers, but in a fun, lovable way,” Joseph says. "I definitely see the parallels [to Entourage]. [We Are Your Friends] is kind of grittier and younger."

That's why these male entourage movies are so watchable. They're grounded in real life — everyone either has or knows that group of childhood friends that's always stuck together — but then get a heavy dose of Hollywood gloss applied on their way to the big screen. Instead of focusing on the entire group, the stories tend to focus on one character's story. He's the charming, good-looking guy from the neighborhood with a dream. We're rooting for him. Why? Well, that answer isn't always readily apparent, because his character is usually quite vacant. The rest of his boys are willing to do whatever it takes to help him achieve said dream, though, and that's enough for us to root (root, root) for the home team.

The audience and critics do notice, though. It’s a commonly repeated complaint that Vince (Adrian Grenier) is the most boring and undefined character on Entourage. Without Vince, there would be no Entourage, but without his hilarious and forever hustling band of bros, there would also be no reason to watch Vince. We bring this up with Joseph.

“On the page, Zac's character, [Cole], was kind of the least defined, even though he was the main character, which always made me a little nervous, because all of the other characters were very strong… There's the loud one, [Mason], and then there's the suave one, [Ollie], and then there's kind of the runt of the group, [Squirrel]. And then there's kind of the guy in the middle who's taking it all in, [Cole], but it's also the most blank in terms of what you could do with the role,” Joseph says.
Squirrel, Cole, Mason, & Ollie in We Are Your Friends
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
"I think that [Cole] becomes more defined as the movie goes on," Joseph adds. And here's another key element in the brothers-in-bonding genre: the subtle life lessons about navigating friendships through your teens, twenties, and beyond. Apparently, male-oriented entertainment and magazines don't do this with the same frequency that female-oriented ephemera have been for decades.

“As you get older and you experience success, that does things to your friendships, and it changes your life a little bit. I think that that’s what you see with Zac's character," Joseph says. "You can't take everyone with you. People go in their different directions, and some people are envious or spiteful. [Those are] the pains of growing up, I think.”

Times change, and people change, but you know what? The fleeting and situational era of the entourage is very much the #YOLO period in one's life when their boys have their back. The friend groups in these films have usually known each other since childhood, having all grown up in the same neighborhood, and we meet them on the cusp of adulthood in their early to mid-twenties. They're all about working together to make that dream happen, whether it's becoming the king of the dance floor at 2001 Odyssey, a movie star, or the most successful DJ and EDM producer in the world.

And remember: THEY...ARE...YOUR FRIENDS. Except they're not; they're a group of attractive men perfectly concocted by Hollywood screenwriters and casting directors to appear as if they might be from a neighborhood like yours to chip at your sentimentality while you look at Zac Efron's perfect face and biceps. Filmmakers and movie studios are kind of marketing geniuses like that. Nevertheless, it's still fun to watch these fictional scrappy rogues pull themselves up by their professionally styled bootstraps time and time again. Plus, the parties they throw to celebrate their success are legendary. OH YEAHHHHHHH.

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