Directed by Nima Nourizadeh
Screenplay by Matt Drake, Michael Bacall
Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Nichole Bloom, Alexis Knapp
How long is Project X? 88 minutes.
What is Project X rated? R for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem – all involving teens.
Drugs, drinking and debauchery: not just for college anymore.
Project X is a preposterous, implausible celebration of excess that contributes nothing to cinema or filmmaking. More importantly, though, it is incredibly awesome and an opportunity to vicariously participate in the greatest party of all time. Though the movie’s simplicity makes The Hangover look like The Usual Suspects, Project X is probably the most fun you’ll ever have without getting thrown in jail.
The premise is far from novel. Thomas (Thomas Mann), Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) are three friends who decide that they are tired of being nobodies at their high school and that throwing an amazing part will guarantee them popularity and, most importantly, girls. They agree that Thomas’ birthday is a perfect excuse to host a party, especially since his parents will be out of town for the weekend so any mess can be cleaned up by Sunday. As the movie opens, we meet loud mouth Costa who has enlisted AV clubber Dax (Dax Flame) to record the events of that day and night. We only get one brief glimpse of Dax who is otherwise operating the camera which is filming nonstop. (Project X makes use of the “found footage” style of filmmaking which has become a plague on Hollywood in recent years. More on that later.)
Thomas tells Costa he only wants about 50 people at his house, but Costa overpublicizes in an effort to avoid the embarrassing possibility of no one showing up. In addition to an email and text blast to the entire school, Costa gets the party mentioned on a local radio show and even posts it on Craigslist. As expected, more than 50 people show up and are soon overflowing from Thomas’ backyard into the house. When former baseball star Miles (Miles Teller) shows up with a bus full of people and a DJ, Thomas’ small soiree officially turns into a party and property damage becomes imminent. To his horror, the partygoers begin multiplying faster and faster and soon Thomas loses complete control of the festivities. Luckily for him, there is plenty of booze (not to mention Ecstasy) to help him cope with his series of terrible choices.
Project X is not a serious film; it isn’t meant to be. Director Nima Nourizadeh catapults the movie from teenage fantasy to outlandish nightmare with a disturbingly accurate sense of authenticity. The events progress in a manner that makes the escalating anarchy nearly imperceptible, making the boys’ complicity almost understandable. Nourizadeh, whose only previous film was a documentary, choreographs the anarchy in a way that seems to come from personal experience.
The found footage phenomenon, which has become the go to method for low budget movies, has had its fair share of successes (Paranormal Activity, Chronicle) and failures (Paranormal Activity 2, The Last Exorcism). Project X lends itself to this first person style of filmmaking since kids are able to document nearly every aspect of their lives already via Twitter and camera phones. However, Nourizadeh breaks too many of the found footage rules which collectively point to either laziness or apathy toward the genre in which he has decided to work. The idea that one person (who is rarely seen) is filming everything with one camera is fine. In Project X, though, Dax, our stand-in for the evening, is seemingly everywhere at once. He doesn’t miss anything, something that should truly be impossible. As mentioned previously, Project X is not entirely concerned with our reality, but the story must still work within the reality of the movie.
Written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall, the film is quite inventive in the minor events it lays out early in the film that will eventually add to the mayhem later on. Drake and Bacall, too, get lazy with the storytelling details, though. An ongoing joke is an upset neighbor, Rob (Rob Evors), who gets more and more angry as the party grows. This is totally legitimate. However, Rob is the only neighbor who complains or threatens to call the cops. Why? We see early in the film that Thomas lives in a neighborhood where the houses are quite close together and all of the residents are at home. Far more of the adults in the vicinity should have taken action, a concept Drake and Bacall chose to ignore.
Possibly most impressive and surprising about Project X are the strong performances by its cast of young actors. Mann especially gives a terrific performance as Thomas’ night goes from awesome to terrible to amazing to horrendous. As Costa, Cooper is the obnoxious friend everyone has had at one time or another, but he’s also a decidedly talented promoter and pretty quick-thinking in a jam (at least to a point). The believability of the cast adds to the movie’s ability to let the audience believe they are actually witnessing events that took place. For a found footage movie, there is no better sign of success.
If you’re looking for great cinema, look somewhere else. If you want a chance to escape from reality for an hour and a half and be part of a legendary party, Project X is the movie for you.
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”