Teenagers in movies are smarter than those in real life. They’re smoother. They’re cooler. They spend Friday nights at hip parties with hip music, rather than locked in their rooms with their best friends lip-synching to an embarrassing amount of Katy Perry.
Mass-marketed films with teenagers operate outside of the neuroses of growing up, the insecurities of personality, in confidence rather than confusion about sex. Sheer teenage exuberance becomes a victory over the compromises and socially-accepted wickedness that hold the adult world together. These films bolt reality in favor of aspirational fantasy.
In this spirit, Project X is the entirety of the teenage id unleashed. With a house party that passes from a coming-of-age rite onto the verge of the apocalypse, it grasps both the fondness and fear that we feel toward youth. I feel a sort of admiration for its reckless abandon, for its willingness to take it all the way in each direction, even if the results are fairly mixed.
The film is produced by Todd Phillips of Hangover fame, and it plays like the night in The Hangover that we never see. Thomas (Thomas Mann) is the sensitive kid whose parents are confident their shy son could never throw a violent house party. J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) is the squat nebbish without a hope. Castro (Oliver Cooper) is the displaced New York fast-talker lamenting his abandoned party life back in Queens. All three friends attend a California high-school that appears to be a magnet school for models. With Thomas’s parents away on his birthday, like so many teenaged movie-nerds before them, they throw a house party that they hope will obliterate their virginity and increase their popularity.
From there, you can imagine it. Loud music. Alcohol. Skinnydipping. Hook-ups. Angry neighbors. Broken glass. A broken lawn gnome full of Ecstacy. Bacchanalian pleasure presages Bacchanalian disorder. If the world is going to end this year, has anyone ever conjectured that it might come from a house party?
In its best stretches Project X intoxicates you with the desire for youthful abandon. It is shot in a found footage sort of way, as if it were an amateur documentary, and that gives the increasingly frenzied activity the weight of reality. It slowly boils you by asking “Can you believe this?” to gradually wilder things.
I ultimately answered no. Too many of the hijinks are ripped off from eighties John Hughes movies, primarily Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Weird Science (with an assist from Risky Business). And too often the film leaves you watching it rather than quite living it.
(picture: Kirby Bliss Banton; by Beth Dubber – © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment)