With Project X, the teen sex comedy reaches its apocalyptic stage—almost literally. Yes, in Nima Nourizadeh’s film, a post-bacchanalian blaze nearly burns down a suburban Los Angeles neighborhood, but in the movie’s terms, none of that matters since, as everyone save a surly neighbor agrees, the party in question was “awesome.” And awesomeness seems to be the chief quality prized by both the film and its characters; all other considerations—like safety, property damage, and especially good taste—are secondary. There’s a certain gleefulness in this anarchy and indifference to circumscribed morality, and at one point the thousands of partygoers assembled on the grounds of the film’s SoCal mansion setting even suggest the ranks of OWS protesters as they face down hostile police, but these rich kids’ agenda is strictly apolitical. They don’t care about wealth inequality, simply the pursuit of awesomeness, which is to say drinking, popping ecstasy, and indulging in topless bathing.
But despite the literal conflagration that heralds the end of the party, Project X can be said to be apocalyptic in a different way; it’s the film that lays bare the pulsing id at the heart of a film cycle and signals its terminal stage. Taking the nerdy-kids-throw-a-party-and/or-try-to-get-laid template of films such as American Pie and Superbad, Nourizadeh and screenwriters Michael Bacall and Matt Drake strip the formula down to its bare essentials, dispensing with such niceties as character development, life lessons, and any sense of responsibility. The whole thing’s a party and even when it blows up, the ringleaders escape with little more than a slap on the wrist and a knowing wink for their destructive behaviors.
When Thomas’s (Thomas Mann) parents go out of town and he’s left alone to celebrate his 17th birthday, his friends Costa (Oliver Cooper, a younger, even less appealing Jonah Hill) and J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) convince him to throw the bash of the year, a “game changer” that will cement their status as local legends and provide these outsiders with instant popularity. Which is exactly what happens. Project X is more vulgar, sexist, and homophobic than other entries in the teen sex comedy cycle, and much of the potentially offensive dialogue is spoken by Costa, a young man desperate for social acceptance, adopting a defensive hard-ass pose. But that only excuses him so many times from calling his friends “faggots” and gleefully defending his antics on morning-news programs after the party gains regional notoriety. Sometimes what’s “offensive” is simply offensive.
Also sometimes being popular isn’t all there is to life. But don’t tell that to the makers of Project X. Being accepted by mindless peers is the only goal recognized by the film, if you exclude the movie’s ultra-perfunctory treatment of that old standby, getting the girl. The nice girl that is, not the slut. Which is what Thomas achieves with a bare minimum of effort, easily excusing himself for fondling another young woman’s breasts while his true love walks in on him. Whatever. None of it matters. Because this far down the rabbit hole of teen “comedy” (a descent that extends to the film’s aesthetic gambit, yet another rehash of the Cloverfield-style faux-found-footage shtick), it’s either laugh at juvenile antics and write it off as boys being boys, or get offended. And a nonentity like Project X hardly justifies the latter response.