My venture to see Project X (2012) was exploratory; I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I went, but the film seemed important on a massive scale. It also seemed to contain elements of some of my favorite films about high school (which also include giant parties) – i.e., Can’t Hardly Wait (1998), Superbad (2007), and Less Than Zero (1987).
Project X is yet another installment in the long running high school-bash flick, in which the main characters wind their way through a series of mishaps and end up in situations their high school brains never could have imagined. Unfortunately, the fantastical elements of the movie don’t quite mesh with its hyper-real hand-held camera filming technique.
A-la The Blair Witch Project (1999), Cloverfield (2008), and TV shows like the BBC’s The Office (2001-2003) and NBC’s Parks and Recreation (2009- ), producer Todd Phillips (director of The Hangover (2009) and Old School (2003)) allows director Nima Nourizadeh to use the hand-held approach, which helps to create suspense and grab behind-the-scenes material (which, when used well, works). In a recent review of 21 Jump Street (2012) Peter Travers writes, “LAUGH ALL YOU WANT: life never stops being like high school.” If Travers’ statement is true, it’s both poignant and sad. However, I found that through watching Project X that his statement is nihilistic (even if it was an attempt to be cutesy). Furthermore, his commentary helped me put my finger on why this film might be important.
What Travers’ statement does prove is that the medium through which Project X is shot might be too intense for some viewers. Through the lens of the camcorder, we become part of the party unfolding on-screen and are aware that this isn’t a film but rather, as the title suggests, a “project.” So that we can’t help but either be for the main characters or be completely ambivalent to them. We, however, never grow any true appreciation for the characters because their actions are in the moment (not as in a traditional film, where actions are set in time), so we can’t imagine them reflecting on their actions, like when one teenager (I don’t recall his name; he shall go nameless) puts miniature bottles of booze in a baby’s hand at a grocery store when the baby’s mother is looking at produce. There is no repercussion for this idiotic behavior, but it seems as if there should be. Because if life never stops being like high school (and we continue to do stupid shit like the teenager does in the film), then this is one sad fucking world. Right? Right.
I think Travers statement can be interpreted to mean something more poignant: there’s a part of our psychological make-up that never lets go of the raw and visceral urges to party, lose our minds, and want to act upon our more animalistic drives – all of which develop and are very sensitive in our formative high school years. Now, there are adults who will continue to live life absorbed in the high-school format – they will continue going to house parties and spend all their energy on losing their minds and scoring sex and/or drugs at these parties. This is fine. There are others who will forever fight against that lifestyle because for this faction, to live that way equals decay. Or, maybe some of us simply find a different medium, a different scene, in which to purge these urges.
And it’s with that insight that I walked out of Project X. It was an act of self-preservation. The feelings of anxiety felt by the main characters fueled by worries that their party will fail, that they might not get laid, and most importantly, that their parents will find out about the party ever having existed spurred my own anxiety to be part of a more mature catharsis of these raw urges. In other words, my high school urges were dredged up by the visceral filmmaking style, which is better suited (in my opinion) for the horror and suspense genres.
But, unlike Travers asserts, millions of others out there and I don’t see life after high school as an extension of it: high school ends when you put its flame out in your heart. My flame has been muted for a long time. Maybe high school was such a bad time for me – or maybe it wasn’t, and I saw how miserable it was for so many – that I disagree with Travers. But what’s more important is that anybody still living in the confines of the high school model is simply uninspiring – and such is Project X: uninspiring. And while I applaud Todd Phillips and Nima Nourizadeh for attempting this project (it’s a noble project), I don’t see the medium taking over this genre, unless it turns out that, as Travers asserts, “Life never stops being like high school.” Then, well, maybe I’ll have to revisit Project X and hesitantly allow it to be a part of my existence.