March 7th, 2012

Review: 5/10 Can of Whoop Ass


Project X


            For as much as I want to hate Project X, I don’t.  For everything wrong with it, the movie is smart enough to just keep moving forward, abandoning lame gags and sidestepping narrative pitfalls by chugging along as if high school parties were powered by unbridled nuclear energy.  That being said, there is a ton wrong with Project X.  Movies of this type are flawed from the outset, as party movies are doomed to be embarrassingly unrealistic.  It’s just too hard to authentically recreate the youthful exuberance of a high school party.  Coupling that with the fact that no two parties are the same and everyone has their own idea of what a “high school rager” would look like, movies predicated on an “epic party” are self-defeating.  High school parties exist on pure euphoria and adolescent adrenaline, only making sense to those young enough to still experience it.  Movies, even ones starring all age-appropriate kids, are made by adults riddled with a disconnected sense of nostalgia.  This positions party movies as shallow, victims of the ever-shifting party scene, perpetually unable to capture the insane immediate gratification of teenagers fully aroused by the moment.  Project X never really stood a chance, but there it stands regardless, and it’s entertaining enough.

            The story is Kindergarten simple: the parents are going out of town for their anniversary.  Thomas, the main character, whose birthday happens to fall on the same day as his parents’ anniversary, is urged by his best friend, Costa, to throw a big party.  Costa goes to extreme measures to publicize the party, and after a brief moment where it seems no one will come to the party (which is the equivalent of a cinematic “fuck you” to the audience who know from trailers that an epic party is going to happen), HOARDS of people show up.  By the dozens.  By the hundreds.  Neighbors and cops intervene, but no one can quell the raging party, and the entire house is slowly destroyed in a nightlong massacre of drunken one-upmanship and shit-faced debauchery.

            Admirably, the film used no easily recognizable actors, which allowed the party crew to work as a collective ensemble.  The story is centered around Thomas, Costa, and their friend JB, but they are just the ones who put things in motion.  The party speaks for itself.  Myriad montage scenes ignore our high school heroes and go searching for the wildest thing at the party, whether in the form of a rooftop skateboarder, an oven-stuffed midget, or underwater boobies.  If the lead roles had been inhabited by well-known actors, this wouldn’t have worked, as movie stars draw too much attention to allow the viewer’s eyes to wander – it’s why they’re movie stars: they’re so damn easy to watch.  The unknown actor who plays Costa is funny, but pathetically over the top.  If the principle actors drew all the screen time, the film would lose what charm it has.  But the film doesn’t beat us over the head with anyone’s singular personality.  This is a film about a party full of rambunctious kids, and its creators stay true to that.

            Still, there are a bunch of things that are frustrating about Project X.  Why is the movie called Project X, anyway?  Why is the neighbor across the street the only one who complains?  Who hired the professional DJ?  What the fuck is Vern Troyer doing at a high school party in Pasadena? (Just kidding, it turns out it’s the dwarf from Pirates of the Caribbean.) Why are all the guys average looking while the girls are all model-quality?  Why does nobody have pimples?  Why do the drunken teenagers go through alternating moments of extreme inebriation and complete lucidity?  These complaints range from minor details to major trip-ups, but the point is: Project X is as inexplicable as the party it purports to uncover.

            But it does get a few things right.  The “found footage” style of presenting the party gives it an energy that would be lost in a more traditional format.  Sometimes the party montages give off a “music video” vibe, with a bunch of random faces and body parts flying at you indiscriminately, but mostly, the camera style never gets too annoying or feels too intrusive.  More importantly, the film understands the crux of being a teenager, whether or not it actually took the time to construct character arcs or a complete narrative.  Simply put: a teenage boy really will do anything to get attention.  This truth ranges in proof from kids who get detention, to class clowns, to stud athletes, to computer nerds, to lunatics who walk into school with automatic weapons and mow down their classmates.  A teenage boy will even throw a ridiculous party that destroys his house and most of his future – getting noticed is that important.  And when Thomas knows for sure that he will not escape blame for the destruction of his house, but decides that the party was a success (in terms of people actually coming and having fun); he can live with the consequences, regardless of what they are.  The idea of sacrificing your future for the small rewards of the present is wholly consistent with the narrow mindset of a teenager.  It's all about that immediate gratification I mentioned earlier.  Only a teenager can stand atop his house while it burns to the ground, watching his father’s Mercedes plummet into the pool, and recognize it as a moment of victory.  That’s why no adult can make the perfect teenage movie.  We just don’t think like they do.

            Near the end of the party, the film devolves into a pathetic splurge of directorial masturbation.  The party was already crazy enough, plenty crazy for Thomas to have his epiphany and gain his reputation, but we end with a fire-shooting maniac burning down the whole neighborhood and a sequence of scrambled humanity that acts as if a natural disaster has occurred.  It’s plainly obvious that the melee at the end of the movie took things too far, and the quick reconciliation between Thomas and his true love (a vastly underdeveloped storyline), is laughable at best, but above all else, Project X gets the most important thing right: despite all the groundings and arrests and hangovers and damage to property and fights and drunken break-ups and the never-ending troubles that parties cause – they’re fucking worth it.