Project X (2012)
We’ve all had the fantasy of throwing an awesome party, a revelry of youthful exuberance, and cutting loose. The house party is a teenaged rite of passage. Project X is produced by Todd Phillips, the director behind The Hangover as the advertising would like to burn into your associative memory. You’d expect some wacky comedy and boorish behavior from boys living out their wildest fantasies. I felt a deep sadness watching the events of Project X. I won’t bemoan it as evidence of the decline of Western civilization but it’s certainly not helping matters.
Thomas (Thomas Mann) is a gawky, awkward, nice kid who’s celebrating his 17th birthday. His upper middle-class parents are going away for the weekend and trusting their only child with care of the home. Naturally, Thomas’ best friends, Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), take this opportunity to stage a party. They invite all the popular girls at school, spread word via radio and Craigslist, and hundreds descend on Thomas’s family grounds with the intent of partying harder than Andrew W.K. Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton), long a friend of Thomas, is crushing on the guy and he doesn’t realize it. His attentions are on Alexis (Alexis Knapp), the school’s unattainable Hot Girl. As Costa clarifies, this party is meant to be a game-changer for their social lives. They’re supposed to reach for the stars tonight, which means groping strangers and puking in the bushes. Aim high, boys.
This did not have to be a found footage movie, and Project X would have been better if stripped of this tedious gimmick. By making this a found footage movie, it roots the quickly escalating madness in a reality that cannot sustain it. The film’s credibility goes out the window without a thought. A wild party that rages out of control is a believable setup, but when you toss in so many out-of-nowhere outlandish elements, including an angry midget, a crazed drug dealer armed with a flame thrower, a high-story zipline (who put that there?), and the groundswell of a consequences-free riot, you strain all sense of believability. I also found it unrealistic how blasé people reacted to the presence of a camera in certain situations. I think people at a school might not want to be recorded for who knows what purpose. But easily the scene that stands out is a locker room with a bunch of guys in various states of undress. Seriously, not one character, not even a minor character, raises any issue with someone casually recording a place where men are undressing. I’ll grant the exhibitionist antics of the party (the courts of our land have ruled that flashing is not considered an “invasion of privacy”). Then there are also the lighting changes at Thomas’ house. All of a sudden certain rooms have very distinct, stylish blues and greens for lighting. Where did that come from? Did someone find a colorful bulb? These are the dumb questions that arise under the belabored pretenses of a found footage movie. There’s no reason this movie shouldn’t have ditched the found footage gimmick and simply played it straight.
Congratulations Project X, for it was you who cemented the death knell of my youth. I don’t have anything against party movies (Superbad is great, Can’t Hardly Wait ain’t bad either) and I don’t shrink from the presence of ribald, juvenile, inappropriate and/or illegal underage activity. Dazed and Confused is one of my favorite films of all time and that movie is nothing but kids getting drunk and stoned. But lo, Project X was the first party movie I’ve watched where my sympathies lay not with the party animals but with the annoyed neighbors and parents. Maybe it’s a sign of getting older; maybe it’s just the culmination of my upstairs neighbors playing heavy-bass electronica music at all hours of the night when I have to work in the morning. Or maybe it’s just a clear indication that this movie fails on any level to make me care about these moronic, annoying, unbearable characters. So when these twits are off celebrating the wanton hedonism unleashed in their backyard, I thought of the neighbor with a baby who just wants his kid to sleep. Is that an unreasonable request? The man isn’t presented as some incensed, dangerous madman, and what does he get for daring to question the noise level of this party? The man gets tazed. That’s what you get for expecting anyone to possibly be moderately considerate about their actions affecting others (I sense a God Bless America-style rant approaching). I just found this whole thoughtless, empty exercise to be exploitative, mean-spirited, and exhausting. Am I that old or is this movie simply that bad?
You want to know how flimsy the plot is for this monstrosity? You could have written the entire thing on a napkin. Why bother with characters or story? This movie is seriously like someone took the Smashing Pumpkins’ music video for “1979” (possibly the best cruising song) and expanded it to feature length. Even at barely 80 minutes, this is one creaky movie that struggles to pad out its running time. The party mostly consists of two-second shots of people jumping around, girls shaking their asses, people smashing things, people vomiting, and the occasional boob flash to remind you how similar in tone the film is to the sleazy Girls Gone Wild series. That’s at least half the movie, if I’m being generous. What did I just describe? A music video! A music video is composed of, often, nonsensical images that serve little purpose other than to stimulate. There are plenty of segments that are nothing but pounding music and people dancing. If you buy the soundtrack (and why wouldn’t you since it’ll be ringing in your ears for days) and do some pseudo-inebriated dance movies, you’ve basically recreated the plot in your own living room. Project X is a music video writ large, not just in its style but in its single-minded execution to do nothing but string a series of rapid imagery. Good Lord, if this stuff made the final film what was left on the cutting room floor?
Project X also has the ignoble distinction of making me loathe a character not just in his very introduction but also in the very opening SECOND of the film. The first second I got of Costa told me everything I needed to know. His smarmy, irritating, faux “gangsta” machismo persona was enough. I knew this guy was going to be a douchebag. One second in, Project X, and you’ve already dug yourself a pretty significant hole. The Costa character is unfunny from beginning to end. There is not a single joke, a single one-liner, a single reaction of his that made me laugh. He is an insufferable character and a transparent combination of Superbad’s McLovin’ and Jonah Hill’s character. I hated every wretched second his face was onscreen. The other two friends didn’t make me want to punch my TV, which was the only positive thing I could say about either of them. Thomas is your typical mild-mannered, awkward teen (read: the Michael Cera role) who gets to cut loose and grow a spine of sorts. He has no personality and I couldn’t work up the effort to root for him. I can’t really say anything about JB because he adds absolutely nothing to the movie. He has no personality as well, other than his girth and desire to bed some ladies. It’s like the movie forgets he even exists. I know I did.
I know that making a feminist diatribe against this movie is a waste of time but indulge me for a moment, dear reader. I understand that this entire enterprise is untamed male fantasy and wish fulfillment. I don’t have a problem with this notion, on the surface. But why do all the women of this fantasy have to be reduced to, in Costa’s words, “drunk bitches” and “hos”? The women of this universe, which is supposed to be our own remember, are merely walking toys ready to be exploited for male entertainment. We don’t get characters; we get attractive women in great states of inebriation and exhibitionism. It’s ridiculous the amount of older, attractive women who would be enticed by… a high school party? Don’t these people have college parties they’d rather be attending? At one point JB identifies one of the girls at the party as a woman who posed for Playboy, because that’s all women are good for in this movie. Why would Alexis agree to bed Thomas just because it’s his birthday? We see no connection, and he’s certainly not a wealth of charisma. It doesn’t matter. Women are to be ogled. They are decorative furnishings.
Then there’s the aggravating romance between Thomas and his best girl friend, Kirby. First off, if this is the quality you get with girl-next-door types then I am moving to that neighborhood. This woman is a bonafide hottie, so when the guys make dismissive comments that Kiby is just one of the guys, I question what criteria these men have for female beauty. Any of these guys would be lucky to ever interest a woman of this stature. And then there’s the fact that she so easily forgives Thomas after he makes an ass of himself and tries to hook up with another girl hours after sleeping with Kirby. It’s like the movie advertising that you, American teenage males, can have it all and with a minimum of humility and empathy.
I guess the real question is whether any of this gratuitous debauchery is fun. The whole movie runs on the caffeinated, fist-pumping highs of unchecked male ego and fantasy, but it’s trying so hard to be the most epic party ever, and that’s the only ambition the film has. This is one sleazy and off-putting movie. Even some of its egregious faults could be partially forgiven if the movie was any funny. It just isn’t. It’s loud and profane and anarchic but without interesting, relatable, or even defined characters, and the plot is so feeble I could sum it up thusly: Nerds throw party. Shit happens. They get to be cool. In between those momentous plot points is a lot of incoherent imagery of people dancing, women being objectified (by the camera, the filmmakers, the audience), and pounding music. The plot is so simplistic, so plainly an afterthought, that the entire hedonistic festivity reeks of lazy exploitation. Congratulations, Project X, you’ve turned me into my parents. Now get the hell off my lawn and get a job and make better movies!
Nate’s Grade: D