Film Review – Project X
People are always complaining about lack of truth in advertising. Some of the most common culprits are movie trailers. Frequently, film studios have marketing divisions (with no connection to the production) put together trailers that ineffectively convey what the movie is about. In the case of the Project X, this isn’t a problem. The film is essentially an elongated version of the trailer, which is essentially a music video. That makes perfect sense, as Nima Nourizadeh is making his feature length debut after coming from a music video background (joining the ranks of directors such as David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and Michael Bay). There is certainly an element of style over substance, but if you’ve seen the trailer you are going to get exactly what you expect.
Project X is light on plot, but what there is tells the story of a group of outcast friends who decide to throw a birthday party at the house of the birthday boy, whose parents have left town for their anniversary (a convenient coincidence). They leave town knowing that the kids are planning to throw a party, but are comforted by the fact that the kids aren’t popular enough to do much damage. As the trailer tells us, things go terribly out of control and it ends up being the most chaotic party captured on film.
The party film genre has a long history of entertaining films, such as classics like Animal House and Can’t Hardly Wait. Project X differentiates itself by taking a found footage style of filmmaking that makes the party feel much more personal. Granted, for anyone who has ever used a camera at a party, the sound and lighting are unimaginably good. But the party itself is pretty amazing. Despite being a “party film,” probably the best things I can compare Project X to are war movies. It is full of action, the numbers of people being used are incredible, and there is chaos everywhere you turn. For a first-time feature director, it is pretty amazing in how Nourizadeh was able to keep everything organized and create an end product that is enjoyable.
Beyond the basic setup, the other substantial plot element is the love triangle between the main character (played by Thomas Mann), the attractive “girl-next-door” (played by Kirby Bliss Blanton), and the “hot girl” in the school (played by Alexis Knapp). The story is a bit clichéd and predictable, but that isn’t really an issue since it is just another mechanism for fueling the chaos at the party. It is also probably helpful to the actors, since a majority of the people in this film haven’t played leading roles in films thus far. Despite that, they do a mostly admirable job—everyone in the film was fine, but I enjoyed some of the smaller side characters most of all, such as those played Brady Hender and Nick Nervies, who take their jobs as “security guards” at the party a bit too far. Still, the star remains the party itself. Character development and storytelling are left by the wayside in favor of the visual extravaganza.
Naturally, there have been comparisons of Project X to The Hangover, since Project X is produced by Todd Phillips (who directed the former). I can understand that to a certain degree, since they both are the stories of a group of friends who are put through a series of chaotic events. Beyond that, though, the films feel pretty different to me. As much as people might not like the plot to The Hangover, there is one. That film is also character driven—the most memorable elements are characters (the tiger, Mr. T, Zach Galifianakis’s Alan), and the setting of Las Vegas is used a vehicle for the characters to be funny. In contrast, Project X is pretty much the opposite, as the events are the spectacle, with the characters being the vehicle (driving the car into the pool, jumping on the bouncing house, etc.). Both films do focus on bad behavior, but they take entirely different approaches.
At the end of the day, despite the parallels I can draw to war films, I don’t foresee this film having the life span of a film like Saving Private Ryan. Sure, they both have amazing spectacle, but the ability to weave in an engaging narrative separates that film from Project X, and puts Steven Spielberg into the class of being a world-class director. Nima Nourizadeh has shown he has a good sense of style and good eye for visuals, and I will keep my eye on him to see if he can make that jump to the next level as a director, in terms of storytelling. At the very least, he has certainly raised the bar for the madness in party films. If you don’t like the film, you either didn’t see the trailer or you only have your own expectations to blame.
Be sure to check out my interview with actresses Kirby Bliss Blanton and Alexis Knapp of Project X.
Final Grade: B+