The EDM subculture finally has a Nashville to call its own. (Someone somewhere was surely clamoring for such a thing.) That’s not to say that the concerns of the earnestly named, and easily emojied, Netflix film XOXO in any way approach those of Robert Altman’s sardonic 1975 masterpiece, which examined the American experiment via the multifaceted prism of country music.
Forget America. XOXO might as well be taking place on the utopian planet that climaxes the Universal Studios E.T. ride. Oh sure, there’s plenty of drama between the disparate characters that director Christopher Louie and screenwriter Dylan Meyer follow as they converge on the all-night desert rave known as XOXO. But all it’s gonna take is a little from-the-heart positivity and a lot of ecstasy-fueled shimmying (to an excellent soundtrack overseen by iconic disc jockey Pete Tong) to put each and every problem in its place.
There’s certainly room for such po-faced naivete in cinema, and ostensible lead Graham Phillips, playing aspiring disc jockey Ethan, has exactly the right fresh-faced look to sell the moronic, if affecting believe-in-yourself bullcrap in which the film trades. (It’s surely no accident that Louie casts Ione Skye—sentimentally serenaded long ago by boombox-bearing John Cusack in Say Anything—as Ethan’s mom.)
Here’s the hook: Ethan’s been racking up the hits on YouTube with his original EDM compositions. His best friend and semi-incompetent manager Tariq (Brett DelBuono) gets him a make-or-break slot at XOXO. The catch is that the festival’s happening the same day and he’s got only eight hours to get there. Complications, as they say, ensue. A bus breaks down. Names are not on the right lists. A devilish professional DJ (Ryan Hansen) tries to con Ethan into a Faustian collaboration.
Little of that compares to Tariq’s troubles. He’s already courting the disapproval of his restaurateur father for daring to enter the music business. But his day takes a turn for the worse after an especially effusive XOXO attendee French kisses a hallucinogen into his mouth. The drug trip that follows is inventively visualized; it must be said that cinematographer Damian Acevedo outdoes himself here and elsewhere in capturing EDM culture’s affinity for neon, day-glo and pop-art primary colors. There’s even a funny nod to Trainspotting as Tariq plunges headfirst into a porta-potty, like Alice jumping down the (brown?) rabbit hole to Wonderland. Sad that the should-be bacchanalian atmosphere experienced by Tariq and the rest of the cast remains — outside of a brief shot of girl-on-girl spit-swapping — so timorously heterosexual.
There are other inelegantly interwoven plot threads, like the doe-eyed girl (Sarah Hyland) looking for love, the devoted couple (Hayley Kiyoko and Colin Woodell) bickering over whether their long-distance relationship is tenable, and the pushing-fortysomething (Chris D’Elia) who crotchetily recalls EDM’s halcyon days in the 1990s. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that every issue gets solved before the climactic dance scene, during which the corporate-shilling bad guys get their comeuppance and Ethan gets his chance to shine. In the moment, the film’s simplistic spirit is intoxicating. But take my word for it — the real-world hangover that follows is fierce.
Cast: Graham Phillips, Brett DelBuono, Sarah Hyland, Hayley Kiyoko, Ryan Hansen, Ione Skye, Ian Anthony Dale, Brianne Howey, Chris D’Elia, LaMonica Garrett, Peter Gilroy, Lars Slind, Marci Miller, Colin Woodell, Medalion Rahimi, Christoper Louie
Director: Christopher Louie
Writer: Dylan Meyer
Story: Christopher Louie
Director of photography: Damián Acevedo
Music: Aaron Drake
Editors: Sam Bauer, Debby Germino
Premieres: Friday, August 26th (Netflix)