Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
February 28, 2012
“Project X” puts you right in the center of the action—in this case, what may be the biggest onscreen party of all time. Or to put it another way, says “Project X” co-star Jonathan Daniel Brown, the movie has an “anti-authoritarian” vibe similar to the Occupy movement, “just without the whole reforming government thing. And getting drunk and meeting girls.”
The R-rated teen comedy, produced by “The Hangover” director Todd Phillips, stars Thomas Mann as Thomas, whose 17th birthday celebration promises to be epic thanks to his best friends Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Brown), who believe a legendary party is the ticket to the social status and female attention they crave. What results turns a Pasadena neighborhood into a booming, boozing, frequently topless bash that escalates into full-fledged pandemonium.
At Smart Bar, Mann, 20, Cooper and Brown (both 22) talked about a party that’s like a tornado, what parents and grandparents will think of the debauchery onscreen, and the raucous crowd at the previous night’s screening at the Vic in Lakeview. And Brown reminds us the movie’s not just for dudes: “When they tested the movie, they polled all the women in the audience and they said, ‘Do you think the nudity is not enough, excessive or fine?’” he says. “And they all were like, ‘It’s fine.’ The women were OK with the nudity, and consequently so were the guys.”
What’s the craziest question you got at last night’s screening?
Jonathan Daniel Brown: So RedEye’s an alt press, so we can like swear and stuff?
You can say whatever you want.
JDB: Ok, this is more of an uncensored …
Thomas Mann: Some guy he said to us, “Why aren’t you drunk, p***y?”
JDB: That was like our second question.
TM: That really set the tone for the rest of the evening.
How do you answer that? “I am drunk; I’m just hiding it.”
TM: “No, we actually just got off a plane.”
Oliver Cooper: It was super awkward.
TM: It got better though. We just had to feel it out for a second.
Have you gotten a lot of those questions?
JDB: All of our Q&As have been super, super, super, pretty reserved, and people raise their hands and ask a question about the actual film—
TM: Pretty structured and professional—
JDB: The Chicago one, it was packed with like 500 people and I guess there was drinking and there was merriment and everybody stuck around ... So by the time the Q&A came it wasn’t really people raising their hands and asking questions. People just shouting stuff like “Show us your boobs!”
OC: Someone asked, “Do you have a boner?”
JDB: It was probably to me.
TM: I don’t know who it was to specifically. Maybe to the three of us collectively.
JDB: Collective boner. Which is also the name of my new band.
TM: They’re playing the Vic every Friday night.
The movie does a great job of bringing people into the party. Did you have any run-ins with the cops during filming?
JDB: Yes, actually! That’s the first time that’s been asked, and that’s so cool. We actually had the Burbank police try to crash the set a few times because of noise complaints.
TM: We were on the Warner Bros. lot, but then there were real neighborhoods surrounding the area. It was like a real party.
Did you go and warn them?
OC: “Guys, I play the lead actor in the movie, just give us a break.”
TM: “You guys need a warrant to come search our lot.”
OC: We overheard a talk about it, “We may not be allowed to do the helicopter shot, or we’re not going to be able to keep playing [the music.]” The big thing was we played the music—
JDB: All night—
OC: During takes and not during takes to keep the energy flowing so it does feel really real, the party stuff. And it does in the movie. So that was really hard ‘cause it’s four in the morning and you’re blasting Kid Cudi. Neighbors were probably like, “What the hell is going on?” For six weeks straight.
JDB: You also live next to a movie lot, so …
OC: It’s your fault, yeah.
So not only could this party probably not happen in real life, you almost can’t even make a movie out of it.
JDB: There’s no way this could happen in real life. The cops would come in 5 seconds flat. But thanks to movie magic …
TM: That’s the cool thing about this movie. It transcends …
JDB: It transcends the police.
TM: It transcends the authorities. They come and they leave.
JDB: This movie’s very punk rock.
What would you say to someone who’s thinking of seeing it with their parents?
JDB: Go for it!
TM: It’ll be interesting.
JDB: I’m taking my parents to the premiere.
TM: I think parents can enjoy it too. My dad, when he saw the trailer, he was like, “It reminds me of being in college and those kind of parties that I threw.”
JDB: Thomas Mann’s dad was an animal!
TM: My point is people of all ages feel the nostalgia.
OC: I agree too. And I also think two generations, like my grandparents, their generation might not feel so comfortable with a movie like this. But my parents’ generation is very liberal and I think not everybody but a lot of them are to the point of like this is fun for them to watch.
So bring the parents, not the grandparents.
TM: Bring especially the grandparents! They’re going to be extra shocked.
JDB: It’s always fun seeing some guy in his 50s make some comment about how “Project X” looks offensive. It’s like, “When you were 20 years old, ‘Animal House’ was in theaters and you were probably getting trashed and cracking up as Belushi and everybody did their thing.” Every generation has their party movie, and I really hope that this one is ours. I love “Can’t Hardly Wait.” I loved “Dazed and Confused.” I loved “Animal House.” I just feel like this is a natural progression.
I’m sure some people will say it shows something terrible about the youth of America.
JDB: “Santorum 2012.”
TM: It’s not like kids have just started recently in this generation getting [bleeped] up at a young age and having sex and all that.
JDB: Haven’t you seen “300?”
TM: But this one it’s like you’re right there in the action and people are all of a sudden, it’s too real for them and back away.
OC: People get like this about movies all the time. It’s like, “Get over yourself.”
JDB: If anything, I do think this movie actually would discourage somebody from partying too hard because you’re right there in the eye of the storm the whole time.
TM: Yeah, we do really make it look unappealing by the end of the movie. We look disgusting.
OC: And it makes you not want to host the party. You want to go to a party...
JDB: Yeah. It’s like, “I would love to party, just not at my house.”
OC: I don’t want to host that party. That sounds terrible.
TM: It looks fun to a point.
How do you think your partying compares to the level of partying for the three “Hangover” guys?
JDB: Well, the good thing about this party is we actually get to see it. The “Hangover” party, you see pictures …
TM: This is like the portion of “The Hangover” that you don’t get to see. The picture portion of it. So yeah, I think we hold our own.
Is a party better if you forget most of it, or is it better if you can remember?
JDB: I’m a fan of memories myself, personally. I like knowing what I did.
OC: It is funny when you go and get really drunk and you can’t remember anything and you’re like trying to figure it out.
JDB: And you get to play detective.
TM: And you get to piece it all together.
JDB: It’s like “L.A. Noir.” There’s a clump of hay, some vomit, some underwear.
TM: It’s sort of like “The Hangover.”
JDB: Yeah. It’s “The Hangover.” “The Hangover” is a mystery movie. This is not a mystery movie. This is like “Twister.” We’re Helen Hunt chasing the party.
How successful would it be if, like in the movie, you put up a sign that said “Naked Girls Only”?
JDB: Well, I tried it at my grandma’s senior retreat.
OC: It was super successful.
JDB: It was great. There were so many nude 90-year-old women walking around.
On their worst punishment growing up:
JDB: “The worst thing that ever happened to me is they would take away my laptop and they’d be like, ‘You can’t use the computer for a week,’ and I’d just pound my head against the wall, like ‘Mom, give me back the computer!’”
OC: “Chicago’s a party town. Chicago, really, every time I come here it really is like a college. The whole city feels like a college. It’s very young and hip and I love this city.”
TM: “This is my first time here, but it’s cool so far and the people seem fun.”
JDB: “This is my first time here but I’ll be back in a few months for sure. No doubt.”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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