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Project X

March 2, 2012
Project X

In special-effects blockbusters there’s always an element of one-upsmanship. Whatever spectacle the last big one had, the next one must try to outdo it. Project X takes that principle and applies it to the party movie. There’s not usually much of an arms race in this genre, since the party’s antics are usually tied with a story, but here the plot is an afterthought, which allows the party itself to blow far past similar entries. Imagine everything hinted at in the closing credits of producer Todd Phillips’ Hangover movies without the device of a next-day reconstruction, which director Nina Nourizadeh then decides to record in the now-ubiquitous cinema faussitĂ© style.

Okay, so there’s a little bit of a story to get the party ball rolling: Thomas (Thomas Mann) is turning seventeen, and his friends Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) want to throw him a party. They also want it to be big enough that as a side effect it will bring about a major shift in their social status at North Pasadena High School.

Costa envisions an orgy of drinking, drugs, and — of course — naked girls, including the preternaturally-developed Alexis (Alexis Knapp), though Thomas harbors affections for childhood friend Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton). They enlist quiet, vaguely creepy A/V clubber Dax (Dax Flame) to videotape the proceedings, and a pair of twelve-year-old would-be badasses (Nick Nervies and Brady Hender) to run their overzealous form of “security”.

Thomas’ parents will be conveniently out of town for the weekend, their anniversary coinciding with Thomas’ birthday, but they aren’t worried; Thomas is, as his father puts it, a loser who couldn’t draw more than a handful of attendees. To compensate, Costa goes a little overboard with the publicity, and things quickly grow out of control. The off-limits house is “breached”; things start getting broken; a midget goes in the oven; a car ends up in the pool; the local news helicopter and riot police show up.

But with the pretense of veracity, I’m led to wonder just how realistic this is. Strip out the obviously over-the-top parts and reduce it to just a big high-school party; is this really normal? I lived on the bottom of my own school’s social ladder, and I didn’t have a friend like Costa to throw caution to the wind at my expense, so I never really went to these sorts of things; was this really what I was missing out on? Part of me thinks that this story is yet another outgrowth of the usual teenage projection that everyone else is having more fun than you are. Part of me thinks that this might actually be normal, and regrets not having these youthful indiscretions to look back upon in my nostalgia.

But mostly I’m left thinking that even if I did miss out on these experiences, I didn’t really miss out on much in the long run. By far the most realistic part of Project X is the teenage boys, and teenage boys are universally horrible; that much I do know from my own experience. Even when we’re supposed to empathize with Thomas, I want to slap him repeatedly — only partly because of the sinking feeling that I’d probably have done much the same thing in his shoes — and Costa is far worse.

Still, as squirmy and uncomfortable as the leads made me, the party is spectacular. As a story it’s almost nonexistent, but as a montage of clips, each daring the next one to go even further, it does just what it sets out to do.

Worth It: not really, unless you’re a teenage boy yourself.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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