“We the Party” has a poster that makes it look like a more urban entry in the popular “Step Up” franchise, but is hilariously tagged as being “From the Director of ‘New Jack City,'” a movie that most of the cast and pretty much anyone they’re targeting to watch the movie, have either forgotten about entirely or never seen because it’s too fucking old. It is, however, quite evocative of “We the Party,” a movie that tries to be edgier, more outrageous, and (oddly) more socially conscious than most teen movies, but ends up being just as tired and cliché (if not more so), combining familiar beats from every high school flick imaginable and shellacking them in the tired aesthetics of 1990s music videos.
The titular shindig in “We the Party” is one put on by Hendrix Sutton (Mandela Van Peebles – there are about a half-dozen credited Van Peebles in this thing). Hendrix is an underachiever whose father is a hip teacher (director, actual father Mario Van Peebles) at his ethnically magnet school. Hendrix hangs around with a veritable who’s-who of high school movie clichés – including the little Italian guy Quicktime (Moises Arias), the rich kid (Patrick Cage II), the white trash skater kid Que (Ryan Vigil) and the nebbish tech-head Obama (Makaylo Van Peebles).
Actually, maybe we should just pause for a moment and rundown the hackneyed subplots that litter “We the Party” – there’s the aforementioned “biggest party ever;” the underachiever falling in love with the pretty girl (“X Factor” contestant Simone Battle); the “let’s make a bet – if I help you study, we can’t fall in love” conceit; the kid from the wrong side of the tracks who has hidden depth; the school project that teaches us something about ourselves (one involving homelessness, environmental consciousness and… dance); a chubby girl whose inner beauty is revealed; the bet between dweeby friends about who can lose their virginity “on or before prom” (actual line of dialogue); and the cool teacher getting through to the disillusioned youth (in a classroom that looks remarkably like an early season “Real World” house).
It should be said that the familiarity of teen movies can be welcoming, since high school movies have their own grammar, and knowing that grammar can give you a shortcut into the characters and situations. But there’s a sense of staleness in “We the Party,” and desperation, too – it seems like it was made by people who think they understand teenagers because they listened to an interesting story on NPR about Twitter. The cloying clichés and attempts at hipness are even more deafening because the cartoony situations butt up against attempts at social relevancy, courtesy of director Van Peebles’ noted political advocacy. Obama is in the White House, ya’ll, let’s talk about social issues while we make masturbation jokes and have gags about prostitutes! Yes!
When the party actually starts (without much fanfare, it should be added), the film turns into yet another dated relic of the MTV heyday, and this is from a movie that has already delighted in flash cuts and title cards for its main characters. The party, however, becomes a full-on Hype Williams music video. We’re talking girls grinding seductively, more black lights than a Spencer’s Gifts, booming beats, girls in neon-colored wigs that make them look like slutty fairies, the whole shebang. Before, of course, dividing up the screen into panels, which is probably supposed to remind you of the prom scene in “Carrie” but looks more like a comic book (or Mike Figgis‘ “Timecode“), followed by a “rap battle” sequence out of “8 Mile” that feels like it goes on for roughly forty-five minutes. Included in the rap battle sequence: smoke spilling out of Snoop Dogg‘s mouth in slow motion (he has a cameo as some kind of random thug), people taking their shirts off for no reason, and excessive objectification of humans that are both a) women and b) supposed to be teenagers.
After the actual party, which is supposed to be this big blow out but wouldn’t make it onto the deleted scenes of the “Project X” DVD, the movie listlessly shifts focus to the “senior project” (the one about environmentalism and the power of dance), which results in a series of montages and, at one point, an all-out music video. The latter happens when Van Peebles (the teacher) suggests to the sensitive thug that he write rap lyrics to the senior project (what kind of project is this?) and the result looks like a forgotten Bone Thugs N Harmony video as directed by the team that works at the Glamour Shots at the mall. We’re all for Hollywood nepotism, but Van Peebles hanging the whole movie on his attractive but not exactly talented son was a huge mistake. His line delivery is halting and stagey and he never seems involved with any of the scenes.
“We the Party” (which becomes a “Yes we can”-type mantra before the movie is over) is infuriating and exhausting, the kind of grating, cloying nonsense that thinks it’s adding something profound to an inherently frivolous genre. It’s amateurishly shot on video and employs an anonymously cheapo soundtrack that doesn’t even let you get into the groove of the party scenes. Overlong and undernourished, “We The Party” is the kind of party you can’t wait to get away from. [D]