A man and his son have a significant moment as a crane lifts the formers Mercedes from the family swimming pool. How the car got there, and the impact of how it got there on the relationship that father and son will have with each other and with the world at large from that moment on is the premise of PROJECT X. Told with the ebullient raunchiness of high-school kids whose vision of adulthood is endless rebellion, it is also a clever take on how bolting across the threshold to that adulthood is about more than losing ones dewy-eyed innocence. Its about lessons learned, some that can be learned no other way. Not the least of which is why it is a bad idea to tick off a dwarf. A very bad idea.
The son is Thomas (Thomas Mann), a decent kid who blends in without actually making an impression. Neither jock, nor nerd, nor geek, he is the perpetual outsider, sneered at by his peers and considered a loser, even by his parents. Thomas is an outsider, but not a loner, and his two best friends Costa (Oliver Cooper), a fast-talking con-man in the making, and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), a teddy-bear hoping to graduate to a more mature ursine, are throwing a party to celebrate Thomas 17th birthday, the titular project. With Thomas parents conveniently out of town, and Thomas house conveniently large enough to accommodate a crowd, Costas has braved ridicule and worse to invite everyone at their high school, including the coolest of the cool, to the party. That he has the uncanny ability to use a straight face and a tone of conviction make even the sketchiest of plans sound not just reasonable, but actually appealing, makes what follows plausible.
Promising a party to end all parties to potential guests, and promising Thomas to keep things under control, Costas wildest schemes actually pay off, and the party grows exponentially, as do the opportunities for the three guys to make their mark with the cool crowd, in particular the reigning queen of the clique.
The filmmakers have breathed a bit of new life into a standard story by casting three kids as the leads who are charismatic, each in their own way, but exhibit none of the self-conscious slickness, none of the oily charm of the professional teenager. Rather, in their unstudied awkwardness, their poor impulse control gives the evenings events the right whiff of inevitability. As Thomas, Costa, and JB dive uncertainly into the debauchery they have wrought, theirs is a delight that can only result from their dewy-eyed innocence evaporating into the hitherto undreamed of heady, perhaps even musky, atmosphere of loud music, loose women, and abundantly free-flowing alcohol. The supporting players are standard issue, the great-looking gal pal, Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton), whom Thomas has known his whole life, the crazed drug dealer with whose ceramic gnome Costas absconds, and the creepy older guy who crashes the party. Less familiar, and delightfully original, are the improbable security Costas hires in the persons of two kids (Brady Hender and Nick Nervies) who may only have recently hit puberty, very recently, but nonetheless exhibit a ferocious dedication to duty as well as a mellifluous verbosity.
The conceit is that all the action on screen are clips from various video recording devices, from the videographer (Dax Flame, whose mostly unseen presence is no less arresting for that) Costas has hired to commemorate the event, to phones, and news footage. Director Nimah Nourizadeh, a veteran of music videos, never violates the conceit, editing it all in a dreamily raucous fashion, with bursts of vivid visual information, zeroing in on what most appeals to the adolescent male libido. The style pops all the more framed as it is with well-rendered riffs on the quotidian nature of regular life that precede and conclude the tale.
From a quiet video game in which Kirby trounces Thomas, to riot police and a news helicopter, the evening builds to its climax, but with a few nicely delivered surprises involving bouncy houses and fireworks, among others. When the cold, clear light of morning arrives,the damages are revealed, the reality sets in, and yet the humor never flags. The three are reborn with a delicious sense of both accomplishment and shame. Thomas with his constant bemusement and sense of responsibility, JB with his munchkin sense of wonder, and Costas, no less cocky with his insouciant cluelessness and the tragedy of the argyle sweater vests he confuses with a fashion statement.
For the most part, PROJECT X is wildly funny as it follows the expected tropes for this kind of story, and yet it is a film that somehow manages to be both raunchy and sweet, profane yet endearing. A cautionary tale that is also a celebration of thumbing ones nose at the world, or in this case flashing a significant finger at the ci-mentioned news helicopter dispatched to cover the event. Make no mistake, PROJECT X is not a profound oeuvre, but it has an infectious energy and an even more infectious sense of fun.