Box Office Democracy: “Project Almanac”
Going in to Project Almanac I had a very clear idea of what I would be getting: Chronicle but with time travel instead of superheroes. To its credit that isn’t really what Project Almanac is, it isn’t as predictable or as overly dramatic. It doesn’t have a conclusion that’s drawn out too long. In fact, in a lot of ways it feels like Project Almanac is the inverse of Chronicle in that it’s a movie that never seems to know when to stop being playful and start being serious. When the time finally comes to put the dramatic hammer down there isn’t enough time left and we’re left with a third act that feels rushed and unsatisfying.
While I think it dawdled too long I did enjoy the more lighthearted time travel sequences of the film. I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by the comedy in this movie but there’s a moment with a lottery check that had my laughing as hard as I’ve laughed at any movie in months. Project Almanac also nails the time travel standard of having a moment repeat over and over until a character gets it right, their execution in that sequence is nearly flawless. The only complaint I have with this fun section is that it goes on way too long and that so much of it is wrapped up in an interminable concert sequence.
I don’t know what it’s like to make a movie at MTV Films. If pressed I would venture it’s an awful lot like making a movie at any other studio but the concert sequence here in Project Almanac has me thinking twice. I spent a long time today trying to figure out if the Lollapalooza music festival is produced by MTV because of the reverent way it is discussed and then when the kids actually go to the festival it is treated like heaven on earth and feels like it’s given 20 minutes of screen time in a reasonably short movie. MTV does not seem to be responsible for the festival so it’s simply some of the most shameless product placement I’ve ever seen in a movie. Also it isn’t hard to see the potential interest MTV might have in promoting musicians in their movie; musicians that one day might perform at one of their awards shows or something. The movie needed a scene that accomplished what the Lollapalooza sequence accomplished but it probably didn’t need two musical numbers and all this time when the conclusion ends up being so rushed.
Another inexplicable time sink in the film is the interminable sequences of them figuring out how to build a time machine. Everyone watching the movie knows that time travel is impossible; you can simply wave your hand and have it work and get on to the fun parts. If you’re going to labor the point and have them invent the machine then it really behooves a filmmaker to make the science pass the smell test of any high school graduate. I was never a big physics guy in school but even I know that you would need a hell of a lot more than the battery from a Toyota Prius to send five human beings back in time. If they’re going to spend this much time on it the science needs to be better and they don’t need to spend this much time on it at all because no one cares and everyone just wants to get on with it already.
The end of the movie feels like someone realized they were running out of time and just threw something together out of misplaced narrative scraps. The point of the film is quite nebulous, it starts being about getting money so genius prodigy David can afford to go to MIT but the group raises that money before the halfway point of the movie and then never really mentions MIT again. Then the movie wants to be about David trying to get his hot friend Jessie to date him and accomplishes that through a bit of trickery but before we get to really explore any of this the film launches in to a different tangent about the ripple effect their time travel is having on events both locally and on a global scale and instead of exploring any of this just tumbles face first in to a finish that calls back as many stray threads from earlier as it can but doesn’t feel like it says anything. I don’t know that any of the characters learned anything from their experience and the ending suggest to me that they might just be committed to doubling down on their mistakes until the end of an infinite number of time loops. It doesn’t feel good to walk out of a movie without seeing the characters change, that isn’t some cutting edge film theory and it’s strange that they couldn’t get there.