Project X (2012)

All involving teens
Nima Nourizadeh
Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Dax Flame
The Setup: 
High school kids throw a party that builds out of control.

Thomas and his friends want to have a party while his friends are away to dispel the air of loserdom that hovers over them. The party starts and continues to grow wilder and out of control until a whole neighborhood is destroyed. It's amusing, but one can see that pains are taken to focus this film on the sweetness of its characters while downplaying any serious consequences.

So I ignored this film when it was out, but it was mentioned as a point of comparison in a review of King Kelly, and it kind of sounded like dumb fun, which is precisely what it was. However, the thing that struck me about King Kelly is that the teens there were true, remorseless narcissists, right to the end, and the film was so wild you really had no clue what might happen next. However, that was a micro-released, tiny budget film, and this is a wide release film by Warner Brothers, and here the script takes pains to make the kids ultimately sweet and relatable and cap off the events with parental approval and social acceptance, and a sense that everything is all right.

The movie opens with an R rating "For crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem--all involving teens." This is immediately followed by a warning, both written and spoken, not to try to recreate any of what you're about to see. We meet Costa, teenager who has moved to Pasadena from the Queens, entering the home of Thomas Mann (not the novelist), who is just turning seventeen. Thomas' parents are leaving for a trip, and although they understand that he will have a few people over, they go around telling him what not to touch--the expensive car, Dad's office, respect the house, etc. Thomas overhears his father saying that he is a loser, and thus he needs to have a little party to increase his status at school. This is ostensibly a "found footage" movie, meaning that there is a fourth character, Dax, only seen once, and supposedly going around filming the entire thing with a giant 80s video camera.

The first half of the movie sets up the circumstances and introduces a large number of characters. It's in here that you realize this entire thing is very scripted and going to be much more mainstream in its storytelling than perhaps you hoped. The third member of the main trio is JB, who is nerdy and plump. Thomas, by the way, is a completely adorable nerd with a charming smile. It was no surprise to learn that Costa is from Queens because he is keyed as "East Coast" in the sense of being aggressive and reckless. They run into a bunch of characters we know will make appearances later, including cool college guy Miles, who shocks the older grocery store checkout woman by enthusing about the party featuring "unlimited high school pussy." There is the reputed hottest girl in the school, Alexis. We also meet Thomas' friend since childhood, Kirby, who has grown into a blond hottie.

Thomas wants to limit the number of the people at the party to fifty, max, and wants none of them to be ale to enter the house. During the day they visit a drug dealer and Costa steals a garden gnome he has as a prank. In one of the first wild sequences, the drug dealer ends up pursuing them down the street. Meanwhile, Costa sends the party invitation to everyone, and I do mean everyone, and posts it in various places online. Circumstances in place, characters set up, consequences established, it's party time.

So at first there is some "no one's going to show up" tension, but suddenly, as though a bus just pulled up outside, numerous partygoers arrive en masse. Soon they are blowing marijuana smoke into the dog's nose, and, in your first sense of this movie's style, you see Tom freaking out over one thing, and see the dog, suspended under a bunch of helium balloons, floating up into the air in the background. You can see how this movie is quite tame at heart when you see the quite extensive care with which the dog has been strung to the balloons, unlikely to be that carefully prepared in real life. Soon the house perimeter is breached. Cool guy Miles arrives in a party van with a bunch of girls, and as more serious, older partygoers arrive, the whole thing becomes more adult. One of the funny touches is some middle-aged guy just showing up and ready to get playing beer pong with the kids.

So hot girl Alexis is giving Tom a birthday body shot, and he's about to return the favor, when he hears that his father is on the phone. He runs inside, and there's a funny moment where he's promising his dad that he's on his way to bed as fireworks blaze in the yard outside. Soon a neighbor comes over and demands that the party be shut down, it IS eleven pm, after all, things escalate, he punches a kid--and he gets tazed! There is a ridiculous bit when the police come by and the guys get everyone at the party just to be really quiet until they go away. Tom and Kirby, childhood friends, finally get it on. There is a great deal of leering at topless women.

Miles smashes the stolen garden gnome--and it turns out to be composed to ecstasy pills, which everyone takes. Tom gets freaked because one arrival says he heard about the party on Cragslist, and you're kind of laughing because he hasn't even heard about the ecstasy yet. Tom is caught by Kirby with Alexis, and now their newfound love is off! The three who started the party go up on the roof, and see it extending out into the street, and the whole neighborhood. The police come again, and are repelled by the crowds. The movie does another of its clever escalations when Tom hears that his party is on the news, and turns it on--just in time to see live footage of his father's expensive sports car being driven off. He runs outside just as it is landing in the pool. Then a man comes down the street, shooting a flamethrower--it's the drug dealer!

Eventually the whole neighborhood is on fire (another little sign of tameness: only the trees, not the houses, are burning), and Tom has to abandon his house. We have footage of him going back to rescue the dog, which I'm going to speculate was added later. The three friends reflect on what they've done. We have a scene where the father has returned, and we can see him offer a smirk of respect when he learns how many people came to his son's party. Sure, he caused Dad hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage--awesome damage, that is! Righteous damage. And now Dad doesn't think he's such a loser anymore. Sometimes it takes the destruction of a neighborhood to bring a father and son together. I'm sure the neighbors who got their property destroyed think it's awesome, too. When Tom goes to school, the entire school stops and applauds his awesomeness. Tom gets back together with Kirby. There is an ending title about the time he had to serve in prison for his party. GET INFO

So, as a movie, quite fun (and delightfully short). You can see that they took pains to thread a strain of sweetness through the whole thing, what with the main trio being nerds just trying to get some respect at school, Costa being a big talker but not much of a real tough guy, DB being such a sincere schlub, and Tom being such a nice boy who really cares about what happens to his parents' belongings. Add to that the whole thread of Tom wanting to make friends at school and his having a sweet lifelong girlfriend who he has to win back by the end. It would be easy (and more likely) to imagine this kind of party being thrown by aggressive teens who don't care about their parents or their belongings, but this one is clearly amping up the sweetness to downplay the inherent nastiness of having this large, destructive party.

That said, this movie is pretending to be pretty wild and out there, while at the same time playing down the consequences and the real damage done to anyone. Here we have the sweetness and concentrate on how Tom may have to face some legal ramifications--delivered via relatively abstract on-screen text--while what we actually SEE is his father thinking he's pretty cool, everyone at school thinking he's ultra cool, and him easily winning his girlfriend back. Contrast this with the party and protagonists of King Kelly, which portrays its big party sequence as out of control and truly destructive, and the actions of its main characters as set up to have a serious impact on their lives. That film shows teens as really acting without regard for others' feelings or property, let alone their own futures, and ends with the characters about to be picked up on legal charges, without much hope that it will all turn out out okay. So sure, they're different characters, it's just that the ones in Project X are a little harder to believe but easier for a mainstream audience to sympathize with--and that film gets widespread distribution--while the teens in King Kelly are much less redemptive characters and their world is filled with real consequences--and that film plays in one tiny New York theater for two weeks.

But still, sweet, silly fun. If you want to see a fun teen party movie that is hilarious and doesn't bog anyone down with actual consequences or real-life ramifications, and is expertly calculated to just keep growing wilder and more funny, this is an amusing good time.

Should you watch it: 

If you like funny comedies about irresponsible teens.