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Tonally one of the strangest films of the year thus far, Project X is at heart a John Hughes-esque celebration of that fleeting teenage moment prior to actual adulthood when throwing a badass backyard party could instantaneously elevate your social status, and cement bonds of friendship that would last a lifetime, and get you laid all in one go. Oh, for the days. Not that they every really existed, but hey, that's what we have Hughes for. Project X takes that senior-year geek angst and ramps it up to a million, turning the whole of one insane, mind-melting, mega-party into a study of teenage chaos theory: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, which, conversely, is all right, bro, just chill, it's all good (or something like that).
Shot in a faux home-brew documentary style that manages to feel both way too intimate and frequently surreal, Project X chronicles the 17th birthday of Thomas (a pitch-perfect Mann), which begins when his parents leave town for the weekend and ends with something approximating the destruction of Cloverfield. There's no monster here, but that handheld camera turns out to be one of the film's major strengths, as it mirrors the constantly shifting emotions of the main characters and the increasingly outrageous (and potentially life-threatening) events surrounding them. It's The Party as viewed from a Jung-via-J.J. Abrams perspective.
Wallflower Thomas earns his chance to blossom as the revelry – fueled by the infinitely creative party scheming of Bronx homeboy Costa (Cooper) – reaches truly epic proportions. Texan actor Mann imbues what easily could have been a cardboard cutout of a role with all manner of real-world tics and hesitancies. He's initially freaked by the amount of people showing up at what was supposed to be a “small gathering of friends," but as the night progresses from crazy shindig to outright bacchanal, the character follows a surprisingly unpredictable arc. Such subtlety in the midst of utter pandemonium is not at all what I had expected going into the film, to be honest. It's a defiantly anarchic, unexpectedly poignant updating of the late, great John Hughes emo-fueled teen anthems, retooled for the age of anxiety and adulthood in distress.