'Project X' Screenwriter Responds To Critics: 'We'd Be Disappointed if There Wasn’t Outrage'

Michael Bacall Project X - 2012
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Michael Bacall, who also wrote the upcoming "21 Jump Street" adaptation, says it's hypocritical for critics to condemn the film's sexual content but ignore graphic violence in other movies.

As reviews of Project X poured in from across the country the week of the film's release, a common theme that quickly emerged was incredulity that a film would celebrate such wanton irresponsibility. Screenwriter Michael Bacall, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter as the new teen comedy opened on more than 3,000 screen nationwide, indicated that he and the filmmakers expected – if not courted – the controversy currently swirling around its content.

“I love it,” Bacall said about the mixed reaction the film has received thus far. “I think we’d be disappointed if there wasn’t some kind of outraged response to Project X.”

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Bacall previously adapted Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World for director Edgar Wright, and helped Phil Lord and Chris Miller bring the1980s television show 21 Jump Street to the big screen. He admitted he hasn’t read all of the reviews (read Todd McCarthy’s here), but he was quick to point out that theirs was certainly not the first film to depict such behavior. “The criticisms about the movie being amoral because kids are dancing and drinking and having a good time, I think that’s absurd,” he said. “Because kids have been dancing and drinking and altering their states of consciousness for a very long time, and this is nothing new.”

He also said that it was hypocritical for critics to complain about the film’s sexual content and yet ignore the potential harm done by violence on display in action movies. “I find it kind of silly to stand on the rooftop and shout about how amoral a party movie is, when in our kind of American pop culture, we’ve got so much incredible violence happening,” Bacall said. “I don’t usually hear those criticisms of hyper-violent movies with cartoonish head explosions. So I’d have call b.s. on that aspect of the criticism.”

Project X follows the misadventures of three teenagers who decide to throw a party in order to gain popularity at school, only for it to quickly escalate out of their control. When asked whether he meant for the film to purely be a bit of hedonistic escapism or to actually comment upon the dangers of seeking popularity at all costs, he explained that he wanted the film to honestly – if admittedly irresponsibly – look at the self-actualization that all teenagers go through at one point.

“I look at it really as this kind of teenage instinct that I think every kid has,” Bacall said. “It becomes fulfilled in different ways, but I look at it as a teenage instinct to find your identity and feel like you’ve done something on your own. The thing these guys do turns out to be massively irresponsible and possibly tragic, as we fade to black, but I think the value in it for them is in kind of finding out where their limits are. Granted, there are more productive ways to do that, but this is the path that these guys decided [to take], and given that’s the concept of the movie, we wanted to just make that path as deep as possible.”

To Bacall, Project X isn’t about judging the teens’ behavior, as much as it is portraying it honestly – especially when it goes catastrophically wrong.“I think the movie’s really about the revelry and being in that moment and feeling like you’re in the party when it all goes to hell, and just kind of going through those emotions.”