The Good: Well-directed
The Bad: Generally mediocre performances, Unlikable characters, Stupid plot/predictable and lousy development
The Basics: In the attempt to create a memorable narrative for a party story, XOXO only illustrates the irresponsibility and stupidity of youth culture today.
After watching the Netflix original film Tallulah (reviewed here!), I found myself wondering if there was going to be - consistently - a quality difference between the Netflix Original Films and the Netflix television series's. Having now watched XOXO, it is hard not to feel like there is a deep schism between the two production groups working for Netflix. Perhaps XOXO is the type of film one ends up with when writers are willing to sign exclusivity clauses for script consideration (as writers try to search for a venue at a production company, they tend to pitch buckshot - to anyone who will listen and read their script; Netflix requires [or did the last time I checked] writers to sign a non-compete clause which prevents them from pitching the script to multiple production companies at a time). In other words, XOXO might be the best of what unrepresented talent can get produced when there are not multiple companies bidding on a project.
I went into XOXO blind; knowing only the title and that it was released this weekend on Netflix. XOXO is a youth culture party film that is essentially Netflix's excuse to never have to put Project X (reviewed here!) on their streaming service. If Woodstock wer held today by a bunch of young, vacuous, drug-using, electronic music lovers on the West Coast, the result would be XOXO.
Ethan Shaw is living at home with his family, producing his own music on his computer, with his mother's vocals, when he gets his first internet hit "All I Ever Wanted." Ethan's boss gets him a set as DJ at the club XOXO and tells the young musician eight hours before the set begins. Tariq has to spend the day working at the restaurant his father owns instead of helping Ethan, sending him on a party bus to the club instead of dealing with him. Leading up to the night at the club, the ravers prepare for the night of partying. Krystal lets her friends dress her up for meeting Jordan for the first time. Neil runs the local music store that is going out of business and he runs the party bus while Shannie and her boyfriend prepare to do a lot of drugs at the rave and unwittingly meet Ethan Shaw (whose set they are looking forward to).
The party bus breaks down, Tariq is kissed by a girl with a tab of acid on her tongue, Ethan cannot get in or backstage, and Shannie and her boyfriend have to sneak into the rave after the ticket sales reach capacity. While Krystal searches for Jordan, Ethan encounters a new manager, Chopper, who runs another DJ's career and tries to seduce the young new DJ to his label. Shannie fights with her boyfriend in the sewer, while Ethan arrives on stage to discover the venue does not have the cables he needs and Neil tries to avoid the bus partiers to whom he owes money.
XOXO is just dumb. As a reviewer, we want to make a sophisticated analysis, but sometimes there are projects that just plain suck. By the time the tipping Tariq appears to go headfirst into a port-a-john, XOXO has passed to point of being irredeemably bad. And at that point, the film is only about the halfway point.
What XOXO has going for it is the direction and even that is, unfortunately, inconsistent. Co-writer and director Christopher Louie does an excellent job with directing the dance scenes and the drug scenes to capture the frenetic quality and the surrealism of tripping on acid. But the use of handheld cameras for so many of the other scenes undermines the sense of contrast between reality and stable character moments and the party. In other words, to land the surreal, it helps to have direction that creates a familiar environment that makes it possible to empathize with the characters. Louie's direction lacks that basic contrast to land the narrative.
Sarah Hyland headlines XOXO as Krystal and she plays a young woman who is smart and idealistic so incredibly well that it guts her part of the jumbled narrative. Krystal seems to have her head on straight, she had a decent amount of wisdom to her monologues and she has clear goals; there is nothing within the film that at all explains believably how or why she would go to XOXO or be around the jagweed friends she has. Much of XOXO is waiting for Krystal to suffer a horrible sexual violation given how she makes a number of terrible decisions while around a whole bunch of inebriated, high, young, dumb people who are acting irresponsibly. Perhaps the least realistic aspect of XOXO is how there aren't screams in the background constantly from people getting the shit raped out of them at the rave.
Brett DelBuono holds his own on the performance front with Hyland. Tariq is a fairly interesting character who has the worst night of his life and is the only one truly not responsibly for the initial conflict he runs into. DelBuono plays the drama of Tariq standing up to his father well and he plays tripping exceptionally well. Having seen interviews with Ryan Hansen, his performance in XOXO is the result of acting (in interviews and commentary tracks, he seems like a nice guy and pretty articulate), but his role of DJ Avilo is essentially the natural continuation of his character from Veronica Mars. Hansen plays assholes well, but we've seen that from him before, so XOXO does not add anything to his body of work.
Most of XOXO is a mess of contrived characters acting irresponsibly and plot-convenient character collisions. The interrelated nature of the characters in XOXO is intended to mimic something like Love Actually (reviewed here!) and it lacks the character depth, narrative strength, and quality of performances of that film. Instead, XOXO is a shallow, pale, youth-targeted party dance movie that does not have depth, originality, or strength on any front to make it worth sitting through.
For other new release movies, please check out my reviews of:
The Whole Truth
Star Trek Beyond
Breaking The Bank
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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