Review: XOXO

Posted on Saturday, December 31st, 2016 at 11:22 am

[Originally written for and published by Crossfader Magazine]

Director: Christopher Louie

Genre: Drama

Year: 2016

Even rave culture deserves better than XOXO. At least on paper, it seems like a genuine effort to portray a generation in their emotional peak and prime, within an excruciatingly contemporary context. Like an Altman-esque ensemble piece, XOXO attempts to capture the passions, fears, and loves of millennials at a rave festival. As hokey as either element sounds, there’s room for legitimate commentary and observation, both satirical and otherwise. But XOXO has the sympathetic streak and dramatic edge of an MTV sit-dram, or lesser than even a potential parody of its own self. The film barely squeezes out any sincerity within its neon soaked frames. It looks pretty and has a lot of pretty faces, but the characters and spirit they strive to represent barely grow past their narrative power within an outline. XOXO is weak, despite trying to be something noticeably heavy.

xoxo the redwoods

An up and coming EDM DJ with a recent viral hit on YouTube is tapped to play a set at XOXO. His manager struggles to choose between family and his passion. A naive raver novice holds herself out for true love from an online match. A curmudgeonly Gen-X’er begrudgingly pilots a party bus for XOXO in order to save his record shop. A couple on said bus spends their last day together before embark on a long distance relationship trying to enjoy XOXO. These are the chess pieces set in motion around a chaotic, oscillating desert-based rave fest. Stakes are high enough to send these characters off into a journey with potential for growth, and their destinies are primed to weave together, throwing each other around in a fateful tornado of chance. Could this be the millennial NASHVILLE or MAGNOLIA? Regardless, XOXO trips and stumbles upon take-off.

xoxo ethan shaw

Real EDM stars need dope stage names, like “Ethan Shaw”

To reference a familiar viewpoint of someone not into rave music or culture, XOXO feels like it has the structure and general idea down of making a high energy, high emotion ensemble drama. Yet instead of any actual nuance within craft, the film sputters about disingenuously, with characters spouting random, airless platitudes about fate and the universe, and constantly acknowledging the uniqueness of a life only to be lived once. It feels like a con, a cheat. Kids of this nature are looking for purpose and for genuine love within genres and subcultures such as this… but there’s that daunting feeling that the source they’re courting is empty. XOXO has an actual God-like character trying to, perhaps incidentally, connect all of its loose souls. It’s a kind gesture, but one that is loaded with such unnatural romance that it feels like a lie, more so than film’s inherent aspects of manipulation would indicate. Thematically, it mistreats its audience and subject in earnestness, responding to requests for clarification with loud music and blaring lights. It’s hypnotic, which is easy to get, but the quirky, melodramatic tone XOXO operates under puts up a full barrier, behind which it’s that much easier to see how much of a facade it is.

xoxo festival garbage

I wonder if the festival garbage and vomit glows in the dark, too…

Like most mediocre movies, XOXO has its moments, and even its characters. The kid playing our protagonist’s manager Tariq (Brett DelBuono) deals with a cross-cultural familial conflict that has some honest panic and sadness packed within it. This is thanks to DelBuono being somewhat tolerable in his place, even as his subplot leads him into an accidental acid trip that mirrors back his internal struggle in comedically stylish fashion. He holds his own decently even when dealing with other characters. As well, Chris D’Elia, who is astonishingly the OLD PERSON in this film, lands some alright sardonic commentary on the kids around him. Yet most of the time, D’Elia just looks confused and annoyed (often at his younger sidekick played decently by a wide-eyed Peter Gilroy), which is at least fitting.

xoxo potty

Me after watching XOXO… in a porta potty (I got kicked out of Starbucks)

Everyone else, including Graham Phillips, Hayley Kiyoko, and MODERN FAMILY’S Sarah Hyland, work with what seems like an understanding of what their characters’ emotional places should be, but are only portrayed in what feels like first takes. Emotions reach high and low extremes, sliding right past any sense of realism, or even expressionism. They get the dialogue out but barely get to feel it, because it seems like director and co-writer Christopher Louie (who apparently is in the film as well, somewhere) is busy trying to capture genuine emotion within the hysteria of that rave sensation, as opposed to within a majority of the interactions. Characters get slow motion pushes into close ups, drenched in purples and greens, but their effect lacks any previously set-up foundation to really rock upon. It all comes off as declarative; “HE’S SAD. SHE’S SAD. THEY’RE SAD.” Too eager and ready to drop its medicinal nuke that is the visceral, musical drop in most of its rave music, XOXO miscalculates its real assets. Even something like PROJECT X genuinely builds up anxiety and the subsequent throwing away of dignity and pride into the wind better than this.

xoxo megabus

The real reason MegaBus busses explode daily: too dank

The real shame here is the potential bubbling underneath the surface. XOXO doesn’t need to function as a comedy to get its points across; there are opportunities aplenty to reach something and create a connective bridge with audiences of all kinds, interested in raves or not. It’s like watching a good movie slowly slip out of grasp in favor of something so expediently mediocre that it tries to pull tension out of someone shaking too much to properly insert a USB drive into a computer. As an effort to connect to the younger generation that it tries to follow with an open heart, XOXO manages to actually alienate it even further. If this is how they see millennials in pain, longing to connect with each other viscerally and emotionally, then they see a bunch of easily persuaded morons that don’t fully understand they’re on the verge of becoming full adults; it’s an insulting underestimation, let alone an embarrassing misunderstanding. Even the intense tragedy of ignorance equaling bliss isn’t tackled. To look away from all of one’s problems, worries, and insecurities to instead “just dance” is chock-full of dramatic irony and pathos; XOXO doesn’t have the foresight or wisdom it claims to have to even call itself out. The set-up allows for the film’s characters to have legitimate struggles to deal with. XOXO’s response is a lazy shrug, followed by “carpe diem.” Get some better friends than this.

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

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