I realize that’s not a ringing endorsement of the film, but just wait! I do have several positive things to say about Paramount’s delayed teen time travel drama.
We all know that time travel movies come with their own inherent pitfalls, and even the best of them don’t come without inconsistencies and paradoxes that render even the most well-drawn plot completely implausible. The best ones (Back to the Future, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Star Trek) have pulled you so into the story and characters that your mind willingly overlooks these seemingly small issues, while the worst ones (Primer, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Lake House) leave viewers rolling their eyes at the ludicrous idea of the whole thing.
Project Almanac, for me, fell somewhere in the middle of the best and worst list.
We begin with main character David (Johnny Weston) as his sister Chris (Virginia Gardner) films his MIT application video. With the help of two of his friends, David has built a pretty impressive flying machine that’s controlled with his hands–and even though he gets into MIT, the fact that he’s not offered major scholarship money puts a damper on his elation.
He decides to try for one last independent scholarship, going through his deceased father’s files (he was a scientist) before running across a video camera that recorded his 7th birthday party–which he apparently attended at his current age of 18.
He and his sister (and friends) break into his father’s basement workshop and find plans for a time machine, and set out to build it. At some point they pick up the love interest of the film, Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia), and together the five of them eventually jump back in time.
At first they do simple things like pass a chem test and confront their bully at school, but things go awry when David takes the group to Lollapalooza and misses his big chance to kiss Jessie. He goes back alone, which is against the rules they made for themselves, and things begin to unravel in the present.
Here’s what I liked: The actors and the script felt very authentic to the teen voices of the protagonists. The pieces of humor were very well done, I bought their friendships, insecurities, relationships, and desire to hold on to the improvements the time machine made in their lives. I enjoyed watching them explore and grow throughout the film and, in the end, bought their desperation to put things back to right. Even though I was like DUDE YOU CANNOT IMPLODE THE WORLD BECAUSE YOU MIGHT LOSE YOUR GIRLFRIEND, even that felt authentic to a teenage boy protagonist.
I was also really impressed with the cast, who are largely young unknowns. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’ll be seeing one or more of them in (better films) in the future.
I struggled with: The moments of sobriety and/or exposition were poorly written and delivered in stiff, stilted dialogue. I really didn’t love the documentary style that encompassed every last minute of film, because there are simply things people with brains would never film–such as stealing hydrogen from your high school chemistry lab, for example, or perhaps canoodling with your new girlfriend. I didn’t buy at the outset that a high school kid obsessed with physics would have left his father’s physics lab locked and alone in the basement for over a decade. His sister Chris, who was supposedly getting bullied at school, was a completely adorable, skinny, funny blonde girl–would it have killed them to cast an actress who might ACTUALLY have been bullied in school? The three boys are basically science geniuses but once the hot girl comes along, they start taking advice from her about time traveling. I mean…what?
The main paradox, unfortunately, took place at the most crucial moment of the film–when David went back for a second chance to kiss Jessie–and kind of killed them film for me in the end. It’s never explained what happened to the David who was at Lollapalooza the first time (the loser who didn’t go for it), or how only one of them came back to the future or whatever.
It doesn’t seem like a big deal and in some other kind of film, it probably wouldn’t have been. If you’re into science fiction films, or time travel films, or really well done films about teenagers, then you should definitely check this one out.
That said, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you wait to catch it on BluRay.
Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures.