Several other reviewers have said or asked the same thing. "Project X has no message." "What is the point of of this movie?"
I'll tell you.
Director: Nima Nourizadeh
Party thrower: Thomas Mann
Party planner: Oliver Cooper
Along for the ride: Jonathan Daniel Brown
Filming: Dax Flame
Hot BFF: Kirby Bliss Blanton
Dream girl: Alexis Knapp
Baseball lawn-gnome destroyer: Miles Teller
Thomas's mom (mamma kub): Caitlin Dulany
Thomas's dad (papa kub): Peter Mackenzie
The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy offers us a good introduction. He starts his review off by saying:
The first question posed by this action painting of resolute irresponsibility is: Have teenagers always been this idiotic, or does Project X move the goalposts? The second might be: Did earlier generations approach having a good time with such surly determination? And the third is, definitely: Does this film set the standard for the nausea-inducing use of the unsteady cam?
From this, three of our major themes emerge.
1. Generational Upheaval.
2. 21st Century Consumerism
3. The Self-Esteem Movement
If you want the POINT or MESSAGE of Project X, we start here.
We're trying to.
Forget the generation terms you know: Baby Boomers, Generation X, The Millennials, Generation Z.
When it comes down to it, this is how you categorize Generations: there are those out of power (OP), there are those in power (IP), and there are those without power (WP).
If you've ever wondered how to make sense of No Country for Old Men, this is how. Tommy Lee Jones is part of the by-gone generation (the OP generation), he is, he's realizing, completely incapable of handling the situation Josh Brolin's gotten himself in. Brolin and Bardem and Harrelson and the Mexican gang guys represent the generation in power. The kids who help Bardem, after the car wreck, foreshadow the rise of the generation without power, that they will, soon enough, find themselves in situations with which to obtain clout, to take it from the generation in power. But it also demonstrates the symbiotic relationship the generations have. They depend on one another. For care, for wisdom. Is it any wonder the movie ends with Tommy Lee Jones describing a dream in which his dead father leads him, in to a dark, cold, mountain pass, by a fire in a horn? (the imagery of the fire in the horn calling forth the idiom "the passing of the torch").
"Weren't you supposed to be talking about Project X?"
If you don't already see the connection...just...shut up and keep reading.
As a loose definition, people under the age of 30 are part of the WP generation. The world doesn't belong to us (I'm under 30). It belongs to the 30-60 year olds (IP). They have the executive jobs. They're our parents. They're the incumbent politicians. Did you know the average age of the US President is 54 years old (those with the most experience, but still the vigor to meet the demands of the position) (only 10 of 44 have been aged 60 or over). They hire the WPs.
The OPs range from 60-Death. They’re retired. Or should be retired but haven’t yet. They may still have some clout, but they are past prime. Behind the modern pace of the game.
Think of a baseball player. For his first three seasons, he has batting averages in the .280s, and 12, 15, and 19 home runs. Then for seasons four through ten, his batting average average is .310, and he rocks 30 HR or more. But after that, production drops. The average goes to .290, .282, .257. HR drop 23 to 19 to 11.
This is what happens in life. We grow, we assert ourselves, we tire. We die.
Teenage antics, teenage rebellion. These are the first instances of the generation without power seeking power. Seeking influence. Seeking to make an impact on the world. To affect.
So what often happens when parents leave a teenager at home, alone, on a weekend?
Think about Project X. Almost every tension point in the movie is “Teenager doing something the Adult doesn’t like”. The first thing that happens is Costa (Cooper) walks into Thomas’s house and says something about getting his dick so wet. And who is standing behind him? Thomas’s mom. Costa stutters, tries to save himself. Thomas’s mom ignores him. A minute or two later, Thomas has to talk with his dad and tells Costa to come along. Costa says something like, even as he's walking with Thomas, “I don’t want to talk to your fucking dad.” The conflict isn't "Costa versus Thomas's Parents." It's more abstract. It's "Teenagers vs. Adults" with Costa and Thomas being on either end of the spectrum (Costa constantly seeing what he can get away with, Thomas obeying orders).
There’s a mass text sent out in class. A mass vibration of cell phones. All the students read the text. In the middle of class. We never see the teacher’s reaction. In fact, I don’t think we ever see the teacher? (Yes, Costa sent the text).
What happens at T-Rick’s house when the kids go to pick up some pot? They steal T-Rick’s fucking gnome. Why? Because, as Costa says, they “need a mascot.” When T-Rick chases them, when he jumps on their car, they drive away. Completely ignoring a desperate man (albeit a crazy drug dealer, but, still, a human being).
The security guards at the party? Twelve year olds. One of the twelve year olds TASES an adult. The adult PUNCHES the kid. Why? Because the adult, a neighbor, came over and demanded the party stop. Did the party stop? No.
When the cops come? Costa schools them. Challenges them. Is polite, but a dick. They leave.
When the cops come back, in force? The teens riot.
The entire premise of the film is throwing a party the parents don't know about.
Project X is the ultimate “teenagers asserting themselves” movie.
But why this way? Why with a party this extreme and brazen?
21st Century Consumerism
What’s the message here?
Red Robin is SO FUCKING DELICIOUS that when you're hungry you should immediately just...go to Red Robin. Even if you're on your way somewhere else, it's worth stopping and eating at Red Robin--without even a discussion.
They don't show the people taking the sane action of: taking the proper exit, locating the restaurant, and driving there legally. There's the idea that when Red Robin is involved, legality doesn't matter. You need to DO WHAT YOU CAN to get to Red Robin AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
"Okay. Is this a long digression? Are you going to talk about the movie? Oh, and, by the way, it's just a commercial. Why are you getting so bent out of shape?"
Project X has an entire segment of Costa marketing the party. Text messages. Face-to-face conversation. We find out he posted about it on Craigslist. The result? The party goes viral. Something like 1,500 or 2,000 people show up. Why? Solid marketing.
So the party is a direct byproduct of a successful marketing campaign. The entire plot then is the reaction to the action of marketing. Costa is selling the party, the revelers are consuming.
Look at 21st century consumerism. People die on Black Friday. Due to stampede. Not an animal stampede. People stampeding people to death. For a discounted HD TV. Or a $15 Blu-ray player (hot damn!). There was just an article in the New York Times about how Target knows when women are pregnant and sends them targeted (heh) advertisements with coupons for products related to babies. Companies want to influence us. They want us to want their product. To need their product. They try to latch onto our habits, to become part of our lives. Without us even knowing.
They tell us if we buy their toothpaste, we'll have white teeth, great breath, and a successful date! If a guy wears Axe deodorant, girls will tear his clothes off. If we eat Subway, we'll lose weight. People who make good decisions eat at McDonalds, so if you make good decisions, or want to make good decisions, you should eat McDonalds. If you drink this beer, people will think you're cool. If you don't drink this beer, people will think you're lame. If you wear this cologne, you're suave.
Marketers tell us what we should eat and why we should eat it. What we should wear and why we should wear it. They tell us how to live our lives. And it just so happens that if we listen to them they make a shit ton of money.
McCarthy called Project X a "...cultural, generational, and even political touchstone...." I don't think touchstone is quite the right word ("a test or criterion for the qualities of a thing"). I think parable is better.
A parable is:
1. a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious, principle, or moral lesson.
2. a statement or comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by use of comparison, analogy, or the like.
Project X is the story of a successful product. Thomas Kub is Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg, or Henry Ford. But he's also Enron, Goldman Sachs. The party-goers are the consumers. Encouraged to voracious heights so Thomas, Costa, and JB can profit. The party itself evolves. It starts outside, with people drinking, music. Then girls start getting naked. The dog is lofted using balloons. Then the house opens up. Then there's ecstasy. Zip lining from the roof top. Sex, sex, and more sex. It's like watching the progression of the television set. Black and white to color. Rabbit ears to cable. Cable to Satellite. Standard definition to high-definition. Cathode ray tube to LCD to DLP to LED to 3D.
Project X is the story of 21st century consumerism. Companies want us to come to their party. And they want us to get fucked up. And for every Thomas that's concerned about doing the right thing, there's a Costa ready to exploit, to encourage mayhem, to maximize profit. This is the way the current IP generation has structured the world. This is the world kids are growing up in. Is it any wonder that, as they become adults, they're utilizing the same structure? When Red Robin creates a commercial where a driver puts himself and his passenger at risk in order to get to Red Robin faster (because the food is SO FUCKING DELICIOUS), where the driver breaks traffic laws, do they actually want people to break traffic laws, to put themselves at risk? No. It's supposed to be funny. It's hyperbole. Project X is showing us what happens if we saw that commercial and didn't know better.
The Self-Esteem Movement
So a movie about teenagers made in the 60's will not and can not be the same as a movie made about teenagers in the 80's. Or the 90's.
Even if you have a 2005 movie made about 1960 teenagers it won't be the same as the 1960 movie about 1960 teenagers. Why?
Let's turn to Borges. Borges wrote a story called "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote". Menard re-writes Cervantes's famous novel, word for word. The narrator of the story, who is comparing Cervantes's Don Quixote to Menard's Don Quixote, says: "Cervantes’ text and Menard’s are verbally identical, but the second is almost infinitely richer."
Why is that? Because, as the narrator says, 300 years separates the original Quixote with Menard's Quixote. Which means Menard's Quixote can allude to ANYTHING that has happened in the intervening 300 years. It must be taken in context of all the history that precedes it. Which is 300 more years of history than Cervantes had. This is why a 2005 movie can be a shot-for-shot recreation of a 1960's movie but have a totally different meaning.
Project X is a 2012 movie about teenagers of that time. And teenagers of the time are products of the Self-Esteem Movement.
"The Self-Esteem Movement?" Yeah. That thing where in order to keep kids from feeling bad some youth sport leagues give trophies to EVERYONE not just the team that wins. It's the idea that you must protect children from feeling bad, because if they feel bad they won't be successful.
An article in The Atlantic, "How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America", author Don Peck discusses the impact of the Self-Esteem Movement on today's youth:
There was a recent New Yorker cartoon that illustrated this (I can't find the cartoon). It's a two-panel cartoon.
In the first panel, it gives a historic year, like 1950, or maybe an abstract "Before", and it shows two parents, their son, and a teacher, in the classroom. The mom or dad is holding the kid's test. There's a big "F" on it. The kid is frowning. The parents are yelling at him "What are you going to do about this grade!" The teacher is smiling.
In the second panel, it gives a modern year, like 2010, or just says "Today", and it shows two parents, their son, and a teacher, in the classroom. The mom or dad is holding the kid's test. There's a big "F" on it. The kid is smiling. The parents are yelling at the teacher "What are you going to do about this grade!" The teacher is frowning.
Remember Project X?
Do I need to keep talking?
From The Chronicle of HIgher Education, an article "From Students, a Misplaced Sense of Entitlement".
The fact of the matter is, the kids at this party are awful. They're destructive. They escalate. They want to have fun. That's great. But they also don't care about consequence. It's the idea of "I want to tie this dog to these balloons because that's funny to me." And the kid does it. Is there consideration of "This isn't my dog. If something goes wrong, something bad could happen to this dog... Maybe I shouldn't do something that could hurt this dog?"? It doesn't seem like that thought process occurred. Same with hanging on the chandelier by the staircase. Or putting another human being in an oven. Or tasing someone who has very understandable reasons for wanting the party to stop. Or stealing something (the lawn gnome) from someone who has invited you into their home. There's no empathy. It's all self-gratification.
Costa is the embodiment of these three themes: generational upheaval, 21st century consumerism, and the self-esteem movement.
He's the most confrontational toward adults, the most conniving, and the most entitled/narcissistic. To bastardize the famous Field of Dreams line: "If I throw the party, some hot bitches will come, and I will cum."
Thomas is convicted of six criminal charges. As far as the film tells us, he's the only one convicted. Costa gets out of it (expensive lawyer). JB's parents cheat their way out of it (he's mentally handicapped). From the parable perspective, Thomas is, like today's teachers and professors, a victim of the self-esteem movement. He interacts with these entitled teenagers, has befriended the worst of them, and they use his home, abuse his home, and leave him to deal with it.
Which brings us to our fourth and final theme.
Sacrifice (& Risk)
While the teens ravage Thomas's home, they also chant him name, give him a standing ovation, and make him feel like a king. They're insane and destructive, but appreciative. They destroy Thomas, but they respect him for it.
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
When Thomas, Costa, and JB walk into school the first Monday after the party, everyone is nice to them. Everyone is smiling at them. Saying hey. The guys have "changed the game" as they had wanted.
"Because they threw an awesome party!"
That's true. But why's this work?
Yes. But. Also because people respect sacrifice.
You fight for your country, people respect you.
When you fight, people respect you.
When you have a job, and sacrifice for that job, people respect you.
It's why people respect single parents who work two jobs to provide for their child/children.
Why does Wendy Peffercorn respect squints?
In The Sandlot the kids respect Benny because he cares the most about baseball. Because he sacrifices the most for the game. And because he challenges The Beast. Which was like...the craziest thing the kids thought anyone could ever do. The risk!
You may think Mike Tyson is an idiot for getting a facial tattoo. But you wouldn't fuck with Mike Tyson, would you? Or anyone else that's crazy enough to get a tattoo on their face?
A lot of people think tattoos are pretty cool. But most people get one somewhere that isn't commonly visible. If your friend has a tattoo on his shoulder blade, that's cool. Or a girl has one on her foot, nice. The "tramp stamp" is "sexy" because of it's location, because it flashes us. It's not always visible, but with the right clothing... What about someone that has a full sleeve on each arm? You may think they're crazy, but you respect the sacrifice of sanity.
Respect isn't always a positive. You can respect someone because they're terrible. Hitler was a fucking awful human being. But if you were in the same room with him chances are you're not going to be like "Dude, you're a dick." Because he'd fucking kill you. He's sacrificed his innocence, his place in heaven (if you're religious), his morality, his humanity. You respect that. If you don't, you're dead. ("By your logic, shouldn't Hitler respect you for the sacrifice/risk of calling him a dick?" Yes. But he would still probably kill you.)
You respect a lion because it will sacrifice you in order to eat.
I respect Ken Griffey Jr. because he was awesome. But he was awesome because he practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced and trained and trained and trained. Translated: he sacrificed and sacrificed and sacrificed and sacrificed and sacrificed. I'm admiring the result of his sacrifice.
What did Thomas sacrifice? Pretty much everything. His home. His parents' trust. His clean police record. Job opportunities (felonies limit your options). His college fund. Potentially years of his life (if he does prison time).
Thomas's dad is unhappy. But even the dad shows Thomas respect. "I didn't think you had this in you."
The party isn't what made Thomas, Costa, and JB popular. It's what they sacrificed.
Did I Like It:
Yeah. Look, I see why most critics are like "This movie's a terrible movie!"
The plot is not "traditional" (see Superbad, which is pretty much the same movie but with a traditional plot). Costa is rude as shit. Not a lot actually happens. If you don't party, if you don't like loud music, dancing, hot girls, getting hammered, E-ed up, the movie will revolt you.
As a movie, okay, the quality of Project X is debatable. So too is the content.
But it is sociologically way more interesting than any movie I watched in 2011. (Note the monstrous length of this piece).
It's insane to me that two weeks after I praised Chronicle for all these innovations to the found footage genre Project X does a lot of the same shit. Jumping cameras. Using footage from police cars, news copters, cell phones. There are shots that couldn't be from Dax's camera (which means they came from the traditional 3rd-person camera). As far as I know, it's the first found footage comedy.
What It's Good For:
-seeing hot girls topless
-I thought the music selection was sick
-it's fun, if you party, because it's sort of nostalgia inducing
-reflecting aspects of the 21st century
-topless girls (not everyone likes this)
-some people have expressed disbelief with the conclusion of the romantic story arc
-people are annoyed by more found footage
Eh. I don't think it's worth it. Not that kind of movie.
None of them have done anything else. Except Mann. You can see him in It's Kind of a Funny Story.