By Ezra Stead
Project X, USA, 2011
Directed by Nima Nourizadeh
In the past, I have never fully subscribed to the idea of a “guilty pleasure” movie. Sure, I unabashedly love a variety of questionable movies, from Julien Temple’s Earth Girls Are Easy (1988) to Uwe Boll’s Postal (2007), and I also have an ironic taste for some of the great cinematic disasters of all time, such as Claudio Fragasso’s Troll 2 (1990) and Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003). I even have a fondness for the films of Roland Emmerich that strains my credibility as a film critic, unless one accepts the fact that I consider them great unintentional comedies (especially The Patriot, which is absolutely side-splitting), but I’ve never really felt guilty about liking any of these films. However, while viewing first-time director Nima Nourizadeh’s Project X, I realized that a true guilty pleasure film is not one other people tell you is bad and you like it anyway; it is a film whose content makes you at least mildly uncomfortable regardless of anyone else’s opinion, yet you can’t deny that you enjoyed it overall.
The only previous example I can think of for myself is Zack Snyder’s 300 (2006), a film that not only functioned equally well as entertainment and military recruitment propaganda, but was also filled with casual racism, misogyny and homophobia. On the other hand, for me at least, it was a hell of a fun time at the movies. Project X skips the racism and – aside from a few casual “faggots” thrown around here and there – the homophobia, but it is undoubtedly one of the most blatantly misogynistic films I’ve ever seen. There are precisely four female characters with any real dialogue: one is the Mom (Caitlin Dulany) of the film’s protagonist, Thomas (Thomas Mann); one is Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton), the beautiful girl who hangs out with Thomas and his male friends, and whom they see as just another one of the guys despite her obvious beauty (a teen movie cliché that never ceases to annoy me); one is Alexis (Alexis Knapp), whose sole function is to be the hottest girl at the party; and finally, there is newswoman Jillian Barberie as herself, whose sole function is to be gratuitously demeaned in the final scene of the movie.
The conceit of the film, and part of what makes it so enjoyable in spite of the problems outlined above, is that of the “found footage” pseudo-documentary, an increasingly popular phenomenon these days (which we can all probably just go ahead and blame on the internet). Dax (Dax Flame) is the mostly unseen camera operator recruited by obnoxious loudmouth Costa (Oliver Cooper) to follow him around as he prepares an epic, game-changing party for Thomas’ 17th birthday. The purpose of the party is not only to have a great time and get its masterminds laid, but also to prove to the rest of their high school class that they and their even dorkier friend J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) are worthy of respect and admiration. This is not far from the premise and overall comic vibe of Greg Mottola’s Superbad (2007), and the three protagonists are also a lot like Seth (Jonah Hill), Evan (Michael Cera) and Fogell, aka McLovin’ (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), from that film.
However, where Superbad spends a great deal of time on the hilarious struggle of three nerds trying to get to a party, Project X wastes very little time getting to what it does best: insanely over-the-top anarchy. Once the party really gets rolling, it is truly extraordinary how far it goes, and I couldn’t help laughing my fool head off. There is very little actual plot, but the gags and payoffs are well-constructed, and it is hard not to get caught up in the giddy thrill of things getting way out of hand. Cooper’s performance as Costa stands out as the most impressive in that he manages to make the viewer grudgingly like one of the most brashly unlikable characters ever put onscreen without changing one iota. I guess it’s a form of exposure therapy; I would never want to actually know Costa, but in the context of the film, his relentless obnoxiousness gradually becomes oddly charming. Brady Hender and Nick Nervies also deserve props for getting some of the biggest laughs in the film as Everett and Tyler, a pair of middle school security guards Costa hires to make sure things don’t get out of control.
Ultimately, the biggest problem I have with the film is that it is not, in fact, a real documentary of the greatest party ever thrown. The film tips its hand pretty quickly in this regard – as soon as Costa starts talking (which is right at the beginning of the film), it’s obvious he’s performing for a camera, and mere minutes after that it becomes clear that everything about the film is carefully staged. The problem with this is that, while I could never blame a real documentary for accurately showing the sexist idiocy of real teenage boys, in this case, the film’s misogyny is the fault of the filmmakers behind it. In addition to this, framing it as realistically as possible makes it even more potentially detrimental to its obvious target audience (real teenage boys), and especially the collateral damage (real teenage girls) they are likely to be bringing with them to the theater. As a grown man with reasonably well-formed morals (at least as good as they’re likely to ever be), I can enjoy this film as the wildly funny party movie it is meant to be, but I also can’t help worrying about the backwards view of women it undeniably perpetuates, and the fact that its target audience is so young and impressionable. If the party depicted in Project X had ever actually existed, I would love to have been there, and I thoroughly enjoyed the cathartic experience of watching it staged. On the other hand, I can’t fully get behind a film that offers teenage girls no better station in life than to be the hottest girl at the party, who then becomes the property (at least for the night) of the coolest guy at the party. Come on, guys, can’t we all have a good time without aggressively devaluing women?
Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’tGet.com. Ezra is also a screenwriter, actor, filmmaker, rapper and poet who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
For more information, please contact EzraStead@MoviesIDidntGet.com.