If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Having seen Project X this past weekend, and reading Brian Salisbury's review on Film School Rejects; I decided to put up my own review of the movie. I also plan to rebut Salisbury's arguments made in his article, not out of spite, but merely because I find myself in disagreement with his interpretation of the movie and it's overall message. Now to be clear, I am not saying that my view of the movie is any more correct than Salisbury's, rather I am saying that on closer view a more nuanced film is seen here and that Salisbury is either ignoring this or chooses to believe that this isn't the case for this movie. Regardless of whether he thinks it is more than just a party movie or not, I will still state my case as to why I think Project X is one of the best Satirical films of the year.
To begin with, let's start with the Synopsis of the film. Thomas (Thomas Mann) is a sixteen year old soon to be seventeen year old who is convinced by his friends Costa (Oliver Cooper) and J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) to throw a birthday party at his house during the weekend when his parents will be out of town. The parents are somewhat suspicious that their son could be having a party behind their backs, but the father (Peter MacKenzie) doesn't believe that it would really happen because, to be blunt, their son is a loser. So, the parents go off on their weekend vacation and Thomas and his friends are left the house. It is then up to Costa to spread the word about the party and promises Thomas that the party will only be big enough "to make him cool". After getting some drugs from a war veteran that Costa knows, the trio are joined by Kirbie (Bliss Blanton) as they wait to see if Costa's efforts are worth the effort. At first it doesn't seem as if anyone is going to show up, but then as it is expected people begin to arrive, and as more and more people come, the crazier and crazier things become until the event doesn't necessarily look like a party anymore rather than a hedonistic festival full of drugs, sex, and acts of depravity. Well, of course, while this goes on Thomas and Kirbie are implied to have had sex, and later after doing body shots with the popular girl, Alexis (Alexis Knapp), Thomas then proceeds, in an ecstacy fueled state, to almost have sex with her, until Kirbie walks in on them and leaves hurt by Thomas's actions. After this, Thomas finally gives in to the chaos surrounding him and it is soon after this moment that the party breaks down even further into a riot, when police in riot gear come to shut the party down, and eventually it ends with the neighborhood on fire. The following morning, the three friends and their cameraman (Dax Flames) reminisce about the experience of the prior evening and as the movie ends the fates of the main characters are revealed.
Now, Salisbury's first claim to disagreement in this film is with the role the father played. He views Mackenzie's character's confession that his son is a loser as a clear indicator of bad parenting. I myself found it to be not necessarily bad for the father to say, especially given the context with which it is said. Yes, the direct reason it was said was to calm down the mother's fears that their son could throw a party, but the more subtler reason is that the father is voicing his disappointment in his sons social standing. I know, this does seem a bit shallow and uncalled for, but think about it. Don't all fathers want to be proud of their sons for some sort of social reason? Whether it's the star QB of the football team or the Valedictorian, the one thing that every father wants is for their son to receive some form of recognition in order for them to feel proud. So when Mackenzie says this, it is not some attempt by the father to put his son down. And surely he won't "show up at his high school and pants him in front of all the cool kids" either. Again this also explains the father's reaction at the end of the movie; when while admonishing his son for breaking his rules, destroying the neighborhood, and wrecking his Mercedez; he begrudgingly shows pride in his sons ability to have as many as a couple thousand people come out for a party that his son hosted.
Second, Salisbury lauds the use of the found film footage gimmick as a cheap way to avoid crafting a story. However, the found footage angle is actually pretty useful in this venue in order to show the movies message. This isn't a movie about the ultimate party with drugs, alcohol, and sex. It's rather a very sobering view of what the quest for popularity will drive some people to do. So while yes there were a lot of breasts viewable on screen and the movie did show these imagined high schoolers taking ecstacy, there was never a moment when I thought to myself, "Wow this looks so cool, I can't wait to do this." Rather, I found myself looking at the context of the party as a whole and found myself interested in it's decent into chaos in just an hour and twenty eight minutes. The decent is so fluid and surreal that by the time the riot police come out, you're not even shocked. But I digress. The point I'm making here is that the found footage nature of the film is not to escape telling a coherent story, but is rather the focal point of the story. This is a film about how the consequent of a night of debauchery comes about, not unlike the Hangover, which just assumes we'll get that message and instead spends it's time in the consequent. It is this way of shooting the movie, that stresses this point, and if it were shot in any other way, then the message would have been missed and I for one think that it was an ingenious decision to film it in this way.
In Salisbury's opinion, what makes this film "unconscionable" is it's lack of soul. Here is his view: " You create a world in which popularity is not just a currency, but instead something more akin to the last remaining resource in a post-apocalyptic world. A world in which the ends of achieving elevated social status justify the means of destroying lives and engaging in criminal behavior that would shock serial killers and political despots alike. You also fetishize teenage tits and ass, not in a playful, coming-of-age way but in an underground porn site, gonna-need-a-shower-immediately sort of way that should by all accounts land you on a sex offender watch list." These are all valid points, and indeed one can view this movie as exactly this. However some points I would like to make would, if not refute this claim, lend some discrepancy to it. First, yes the movie does create a world in which popularity is a commodity. But this is to be expected in a high school, and is actually quite reflective of how high school actually is. Popularity is the gold, and those who are popular are rich, while those who aren't are poor. Why should a movie be criticized for showing how things really are? Next, the "fetishi[zation] of teenage tits and ass" is indeed an uncomfortable thing to view in this movie, especially when it is rated so as those who it may be portrayed for cannot view it alone. So why do I disagree with this view? Because this so called "fetishization" is not done merely to get all the guys in the audience hot and bothered. Rather it is done to show how our society is reflected upon our children. Think about how influential Jersey Shore, the Kardashians, and other shows like that are on our youth, and tell me honestly that what happens in the movie does not happen in real life. Tell me honestly, and with a straight face that these influences do not affect how children view life and subsequently how they behave in life. No, the movie is not glorifying the effects that Jersey Shore, the Kardashians, or other notable pop culture phenomenons have on teenagers but is showing us the results of this to our faces. So when we see the teenage tits and ass dancing to club music, we're not supposed to get "turned on" instead, we are to reflect and think, "how is something like this possible?". The movie does this with a wink and a nudge, as if it is almost saying "Come on, you know the real reason this is happening. You just don't want to admit it."
And finally what Salisbury claims to be the magnus opus of offenses is that the characters all get away with it. Well of course they should. Remember, this isn't a movie about how awesome parties are, but about how our society has grown unable to differentiate what our adults do from what our children do. So, if the three characters had gotten arrested, then the message would have been lost, but the fact that they do get away with it is the final piece of the puzzle that the movie crafts. In the first part, we see the motivation that is required for something so depraved to come about. In the second part, we see how quickly things can get out of hand, and how no one can really control what happens (This is what the protagonist realizes and which allows him to finally let go of his consciousness's efforts to get him to act somewhat morally). Also the second part is meant to show people just what our society is like in an uncomfortable way. Instead of seeing the cast of Jersey Shore doing drugs, drinking alcohol, and having sex; it's teenagers. This serious difference is the key, and is why this movie should be viewed not as a celebration of depravity but a satirical attempt to show us the consequences of thinking that it is okay to promote the lifestyle in Jersey Shore and shows like it. And finally, it is in the third act that we are given the "consequence" of the second part. I quote consequence, because to be perfectly honest the consequence was already shown when we saw the party devolve first into a hedonistic orgy of depravity, and then into a full scale riot. What more of a consequence could you desire? And yes while it is true that the three who planned this depravity are not held accountable, again it is the movies purpose not to say, "look we just showed you all the depraved things in this movie, and now the main characters are gonna get their just desserts". Instead it is saying, "Look, you've just seen some crazy shit. Some of it made you laugh, but as it went along, you started to feel uncomfortable, didn't you? Good, because this is what you have caused. This is me grabbing a mirror and placing it in front of you. Now reflect!".
I realize now that my review is getting rather long winded, so I think I will conclude here. This movie, Project X, is not a blatant attempt to celebrate the depravity of the events told in this found footage manner. Rather, it is a very subtle attempt to get us to reflect on how we affect future generations with our values and is trying to get us to look, uncomfortably, at the perceived consequences of our "YOLO" attitudes. For it isn't important to live life with a "Carpe Diem" attitude but as is said by the philosopher Plato through Socrates, "The life which is unexamined is not worth living". And this movie is telling us to start examining our lives, and to look seriously at the implications of our act first and accept the consequences later.
Right on. And I don't agree with Brian.