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Project X

A movie directed by Nima Nourizadeh

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A Movie That Sends Mixed Signals

  • Mar 3, 2012
Star Rating:

Is Project X a cautionary tale of irresponsible teenagers, or is it a glorification of underage debauchery? I wish I could answer this question. The film is nothing if not an eighty-eight-minute lesson in sending mixed signals, which will not do any favors for its primary audience (you and I both know its R rating will not deter those under the age of seventeen from seeing it). While much of the film is exactly what I expected it would be – wild partying, crude behavior, a lot of foul language, profane sexual references – the experience was nonetheless unsettling, for at no point could director Nima Nourizadeh make up his mind on what message he wanted to send. It’s hard for me to accept this movie as pure entertainment, since there is nothing innately entertaining about teenage drinking, drug taking, and the wanton destruction of private property.
The film is yet another example of a found-footage mockumentary, which in the last four years alone has become an overused stylistic trend, especially in the horror genre. Its purpose in Project X, according to the filmmakers, is to give audiences the feeling that they’re guests attending the party. It works to an extent, but the illusion is repeatedly shattered, most notably during montage sequences that are mistakenly made to be as cinematic as possible; the dancers dance in slow motion, there are multiple back-and-forth edits between various locations, and the soundtrack omits all ambient noises in favor of throbbing background music. These scenes play less like cinema verite and more like a hip hop music video. There was no real reason the film had to be shot in this particular way, apart from the fact that it’s currently popular in movies.

But the real issues stem from a premise that isn’t all that engaging, characters that aren’t all that likeable, gags that aren’t all that amusing, and a message that isn’t all that clear. It’s delinquent porn – a gratuitous celebration of booze, pot, ecstasy, sex, and destructive juvenile behavior that I’m fairly certain is illegal in all fifty states. At times, it’s wildly wrong in what it believes is funny. One example is a foulmouthed dwarf who angrily punches guys in the crotch. Another is a pet dog consistently at the mercy of thoughtless partiers; after being tethered to a large bunch of balloons and getting suspended in midair, it repeatedly has marijuana smoke blown directly at its face. The audience is made to think everything is alright when we see it eating from a spilt bag of potato chips. Ha ha, the dog has the munchies. In reality, this would count as an act of animal cruelty.
The plot: Los Angeles high schoolers Costa (Oliver Cooper) and J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) decide to throw their unpopular friend, Thomas (Thomas Mann) the biggest, wildest birthday party ever. Thomas’ parents will be away for the weekend because, as fate would have it, his birthday and their anniversary fall on the exact same day. Costa, who can never stop bragging about that fact that he’s originally from Queens, doesn’t invite his classmates so much as recklessly orchestrate a viral marketing campaign, especially to the girls. Night falls. Hordes of guests show up with every kind of alcohol imaginable. Music blares to life. Every rule Thomas’ parents set are broken. The crowd balloons to well over 1,000, taking the party out into the streets. As the night progresses, the rowdiness escalates into a riot, the cops are called, a news helicopter flies over the house, and a nut with a flamethrower torches the neighborhood over his stolen garden gnome.

Most of the footage is captured by a rarely seen high schooler named Dax (Dax Flame), who, despite his age, mysteriously lives alone. Apart from the party, he also gets candid glimpses of Thomas, who believes so strongly that he should get lucky with a variety of hot girls that he misses the tell tale signs exhibited by his friend, a young woman named Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton). Thomas is repeatedly distracted by how out of hand the party has become and worries that his parents will find out about it. Costa assures him that everything will be alright; he even gives him a tablet of ecstasy to calm him down. At that point, Thomas no longer cares about much of anything. This would account for why he flips off the news helicopter with both hands.
All eventually leads to an unsatisfactory and curiously ambiguous ending, one that begs the question of whether or not Project X serves as a warning against the behavior it depicts. I’m afraid I cannot elaborate on why, as I would have to issue a spoiler warning. Let it suffice to say that Thomas’ actions have generated two markedly different reactions, and that specific people are disturbingly unclear about their feelings in the matter. As far as I’m concerned, uncertainty is inappropriate for this kind of story. From the very start, it should have been open about its intentions. Of course, if I had any say in the matter, I would have opted to make the film a cautionary tale. Throwing an epic party might have made Thomas a legend in the short term, but twenty years down the line, I suspect he and his friends will deeply regret what they did that one night. Who would want that on their conscience?


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March 09, 2012
Your warning is deeply appreciated, and hardly the first that I've read regarding this feature. Banal faux found footage gimmickry aside, it's a cute twist on a premise that was beaten to death in the '80s and resurrected many times thereafter. As its trailers and so many reviews indicate, nothing here hasn't been executed more skillfully in teen comedies that featured better music, photography, dialogue and performances without so much douche-chilling social media exploitation.

However, your moral objections to this movie are baffling to me. Were my teenage years confined solely to dorky pastimes and intellectual pursuits without a copious supplement of parties, sex and drugs, I'd have come away from them a far less storied individual. If anything is likely to negate fun in a teen comedy, it's responsible behavior and didactic themes of either development or subtext. These assure the death of fun. I don't doubt that this is trite, unfunny and absurdly overhyped, but to expect fare of this genre to assert a moral position is counterproductive, especially during a sanitized era years after far more explicit and entertaining equivalents were enjoyed by audiences.

Parents are tasked to instruct. Filmmakers have no such obligations.
March 06, 2012
This seems to be a portrayal of the kind of teenagers that I hate. I being a teenager myself at the moment cannot relate to any of this; I don't attend parties, because I'm the quieter type, and I hate the douche-bags that seem to inhabit this film.
March 11, 2012
I obviously don't know you all that well, but this one comment alone tells me that we have some big things in common. I too never attended parties (I still don't), and I was very much the quiet type (I still am now). And while I personally wouldn't use the word "douche-bags," most of the kids in this film are indeed loud, annoying, and lacking in decency.
March 04, 2012
I am surprised that this has been getting a fair amount of good reviews. I am still not too sure if I want to see this; maybe I'll save it for a rental.
March 04, 2012
I think my problem is that I found the story in no way, shape, or form relateable. I wasn't the kind of teen that went to parties or had parties thrown in my honor. And frankly, I don't understand why anyone would want such a thing. At least, not on the scale depicted in this movie.
More Project X reviews
review by . March 02, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
'Project X' 'Two Jews On Film' Love This Party (Video)
         By Joan Alperin Schwartz      Three high school seniors throw a birthday party that spirals out of control and their lives will never be the same.       Okay, right off the bat, I have to say that 'Project X' directed by Nima Nourizadek, written by Matt Drake and Michael Baldwin is crazy hysterical, outrageous fun and super clever.  I loved this film.      Shot in the 'found …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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