Friday, September 2, 2016

XOXO Review

Towards the end of the new Netflix original film XOXO, the lead character of the film Ethan (Graham Phillips) is about to take the stage at the huge EDM (electronic dance music) festival that shares the same name as the film. He's extremely nervous, and who can blame him? He is about to perform his music in front of a crowd so massive I couldn't even begin to estimate the size of it. His best friend/manager Tariq (Brett DelBuono) is providing the words of encouragement, you can do it, you were born for this moment, and so on. The usual stuff. Ethan works up the courage and heads out on stage, and the camera zooms in close to his face. A bead of sweat rolls down his face. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. It's time to perform.

Ethan plugs a flash drive into a USB port, his music plays, and he pumps his fist along with it, creating easily one of the most unintentionally hilarious scenes I have come across in a long time.

In all seriousness, I admire the heart and sense of fun that writer/director Christopher Louie brings to the film, and it is certainly meant to be enjoyed by a far different target audience than I am a member of. The problem is, what is actually here is nothing more than a predictable vapid wasteland of cliches, terrible dialogue and pretty colors and lights. At the start of the film Krystal (Sarah Hyland) and Ethan don't know each other yet, but she declares that her and a guy she meant online share one of his songs as their song. How romantic, right? Here's the thing though: we are 5 minutes into the movie and I could have verbally declared that in the end, she would fall in love with Ethan himself. All that was needed in order to establish this is he's going to perform, she's going to listen, and these are clearly the two most important characters to the story.

Toss in the Tariq character who works for his dad, a mean and unforgiving man who doesn't understand the dreams of his son and demands he work in the family business. Heard that before? Of course you have, because it has been played to death. You can hear the "Do you really want to spend your whole life doing something you don't love?" conversation coming from a mile away, the moment where Tariq feels inspired to leave the past behind and focus on his own future. I'm all for utilizing familiar tropes when the time is right, but take a risk somewhere in the narrative. Do something to stand out from the crowd of dime a dozen romantic comedy films aimed towards teens.

XOXO features some imagery that is pleasing to look at, which is to be expected when half the film takes place at an event illuminated by glowing neon lights, but there is nothing here otherwise. I was reminded of both Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and Spring Breakers, only with essentially none of the comedic chops of the former and not a blip of the satirical thematic nature of the latter. If anything this has motivated me to go back and give Spring Breakers another chance, as I admired it the first time around but wasn't as blown away as so many others were. Maybe some good will come from XOXO after all then, because on its own it's nothing more than a waste of 90 minutes.


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