Like a lot of high schoolers, Thomas Kub (Thomas Mann) is pretty normal. He's not a nerd, but he's far from one of the cool kids either. It's his 17th birthday, and what are the chances? His parents are going away for the weekend, leaving Thomas in charge. In step his friends, boisterous motor mouth Costa (Oliver Cooper), and nerdy J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown). Costa is pulling out all the stops in throwing a massive b-day party for Thomas who wants no more than 50 people to show up (mostly out of fear of his parents' reaction). Word spreads like wildfire of the party, and what starts off as a bust turns into a party that cannot and will not be stopped, and no one knows what to expect.
Let's get this out of the way because I feel slightly embarrassed to even admit it. I liked this movie. I liked it a lot. It is ridiculous and stupid, and it cracked me up. I laughed out loud at more scenes than I can remember. Go figure. Is it a classic? No way. Not even close. On the other hand, it's not the typical schlock coming out in theaters. It borrows from all sorts of previous teenage sex romps, most noticeably 2007's Superbad (a classic in its own right) but also tipping its cap to the John Hughes movies, Old School, the American Pie series and many more that I'm forgetting. More on the differences -- sometimes extreme differences -- but it's a movie that's significantly better than what I expected.
So the whole movie from the perspective of a moving, interacting camera lens? That storytelling device alone will no doubt turn many viewers away. If you get queasy easy, this ain't your movie. The AV club rep, Dax (Dax Flame), films the entire build-up, execution and fall-out from the party with Costa hoping to give him a movie of his b-day for a present. The camera never stops moving, floating through the party and seeing all the debauchery develop. So in a weird way, it's a kind-of documentary about a high school boozing party gone horrifically too far. Shaky cam isn't the most innovative thing around, but it works here. We see the best and worst of the party through Dax's eyes. The best moments are the simplest ones, Thomas talking with his longtime friend and crush, Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton), overhearing Costa begging J.B. for help "getting a midget out of the oven." Oh, by the way, there is a midget (Martin Klebba) in the oven. Don't worry. It's turned off.
Like any successful teenage sex romp, at least some enjoyment will come from whether you like the characters. Newcomers without a lot of experience, our intrepid trio at the top is perfect. It's easy to buy them as best friends from the drunken, stoned bonding on a curb to the shenanigans at the drugstore pre-party. Thomas is the pretty normal kid, Costa the freakishly confident (for some reason) friend who is unlikable and likable at the same time, and J.B. the goofball who's got a weird streak but is at heart a good guy. Also look for high school regulars, the jock (Miles Teller), the designated hottest girl in school (Alexis Knapp), the freshmen "security" (Brady Hender and Nick Nervies), and the stuffy Dad (Peter Mackenzie). The key part is the three friends, the young actors showing off an easy, believable charm that makes their friendhsip believable.
Now what starts off as an epically successful party of course turns into something much more, something much more difficult to manage. The party and story take a turn for the surreal in the last 30 minutes, but in all the craziness and general bizarre nature of the story, it works. Kudos to you, director Nima Nourizadeh. Is the message ridiculous in the end? Yes, of course. The party gets so epically out of hand that it becomes legendary. But in the finale, it works. It just does. There's also some fun with the wrap-up title cards explaining what happened to everyone. Don't expect anything groundbreaking. Just enjoy a fun movie with a techno/house-heavy soundtrack that embraces the surreal instead of turning away. It's the high school party we all wanted to be a part of so sit back and revel.
Project X <---trailer (2012): ***/****