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Non-Review Review: Project X

Project X is a mess, but it’s a high-octane and energetic mess, with an incredible youthful exuberance and a desire to throw anything it can at the wall to see if it sticks. Though it starts out a bit slow, it accelerates pretty quickly, with the film managing to hold itself together as the party on-screen starts to fall apart. The best way to describe Project X might be to define it as Superbad‘s hyper-active, less focused, more crass, more direct and less sweet younger brother. It lacks the heart that defined that other recent coming-of-age teenage comedy, but it more than makes up for its relative shallowness with an enthusiasm that’s infectious and hard to resist.

Razing the roof...

The most endearing attribute about the latest comedy produced by Todd Philips is the fact that it doesn’t mess around. Inspired by the story of Corey Delaney in Australia, Project X is about a house party that spirals quickly out of control, causing a huge amount of property damage and pretty much destroying a small suburban community. That’s all you need to know – to discuss the film’s plot in any more depth would inevitably spoil some of the gags, and the best gags are the ones that come out of left-field, with events unfolding in the background and call-backs and those strange events that don’t really make sense in context.

As such, the film is really only about the house party. It doesn’t burden itself with too much external angst or in trying to craft a portrait of teenage life and insecurity. Our three kids fit neatly into the archetypes we expect from a comedy like this: the nerdy and relatively undefined every-kid protagonist; the foul-mouthed not-as-cool-as-he-claims sidekick; and the overweight tag-along companion. Those expecting any new spin on the characters, or expecting character development are attending the wrong film. Even the love story featuring the main character isn’t dwelt upon, developed over a handful of scenes in the movie, rather than as part of the cohesive whole.

A three-man party...

But that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it actually steers Project X relatively clear of many of the pitfalls of the modern teenage comedy. For example, we’d expect the foul-mouthed Costa to develop or show a more human side as he destroys his best friend’s life. Instead, he remains a stubborn jerk who thinks that this sort of reckless property damage is cool. Similarly, as our lead watches the party destroy his parents’ house, one might expect a rift to develop between him and his friends – but the film is smart enough to avoid forcing some obvious and awkward drama into the situation.

Harsh words are exchanged, but they are quickly forgotten, because youth is many things, and Project X captures a lot of those quite well. We might find it a bit ridiculous that a bunch of kids would record their antics on video-camera, given the criminal activity they engage in over the course of the night; but youth is stupid.

Safe and secure...

This is an era where people grow up believing it appropriate to share everything, even that which is grossly inappropriate, and the fact that the protagonists are too dumb to realise they are recording evidence against themselves lends the movie a strange credibility. Similarly, many of the smaller and stupider mistakes give the movie a wonderful texture – like Costa’s assertion that a hit of ecstasy will “put the brakes on” his friend’s mini-freak-out, rather than making things worse.

Project X captures that element of youth remarkably well, the short-sightedness and the poor decisions, the inexperience and the borderline reckless stupidity. The best sequences in the film take familiar party experiences and then push them past the extreme. We’ve all been at a house party where somebody runs around declaring “you gotta come see this!” The film just makes the object of attention something far more extreme than a collection of garden gnomes arranged to spell out a rude word. We were all worried about what a place might look like after a house party, but this movie pushes it considerably further than a bunch of empty glasses and a broken mirror. It’s the reckless folly of youth, and director Nima Nourizadeh captures it very skilfully.

When life gives you lemons...

On the other hand, there are some flaws with the film, though it’s easy enough to go with the flow and ignore them. While it’s nice that the movie doesn’t wallow in the tried-and-true clichés of teenage coming-of-age stories, the lead characters all feel very shallow – and it robs the story of some nuance or sophistication. The opening scenes and the necessary set-up do drag on a bit too long, but they’re quickly forgotten by the time that the movie’s nigh-apocalyptic third act rolls around.

While the third act makes good use of the found footage gimmick, the rest of the film suffers for it. Indeed, the movie seems to play down the fact that it’s being recorded by the fictional characters that it documents. Dax, the camera man, has about five lines and scarcely appears in the film. We jump back and forth in a way that seems physically impossible, and – like Chronicle – it seems like everybody is recording everything.

Ecs-appeal...

More than that, though, there are some awkward moments where Dax seems to be filming moments that he really shouldn’t – while his friends might tolerate him, why would their parents? And I do wonder how the video enthusiast manages to capture sound so perfectly, especially through glass. What can I say? I guess they teach some tricks in that AV club that I never picked up on.

Still, these are relatively minor complaints, and Project X has a brilliantly immature enthusiasm that carries it through. It’s not deep enough or developed enough to be considered a true teenage comedy classic, but it offers more than its fair share of laughs and has a winning and vibrant sense of energy that helps make it an impressively enjoyable experience. Party on, Costa.

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4 Responses

  1. This captured footage craze has hit its peak the last couple years, but I can’t see myself making room for this film. I’d rather save admission and see John Carter and Friends with Kids next week.

    • Yep, you guys get Friends With Kids next week. I never understood why they staggered release dates so badly.

  2. Man, you were awfully kind to this movie. I thought it was a waste of ten bucks. I thought the kids were a bunch of bozos. I thought it was an awful title. And you can check out all my opinions at my review http://youtu.be/d9kCTEBlYZ4 in fact, i hope you would. Thanks guys!

    • Thanks Cagney. I agree they were a couple of bozos, but I think that’s entirely the point. They were stupid and reckless and – in the real world – would deserve prison sentences for what they did. However, I think the film captures that sense of shortsighted recklessness that we all remember from childhood (okay, that I remember from my chidlhood) and just amps it up to a ridiculous degree. I never did anything like this, of course, but it’s not too hard to believe a few of my friends could have created a situation that would spiral so rapidly out of control. Obviously not to the same degree.

      But yep, what does “Project X” even mean?

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