I just watched XOXO, the latest Netflix original film and what can I say? Well, I better figure out something to say because otherwise, this is going to be an extremely short review.
XOXO is the latest attempt to capture the American EDM scene on film and, if nothing else, it’s better than We Are Your Friends. In the style of Richard Linklater, the film takes place over one night at the XOXO Music Festival (which should not be confused with the real-life annual festival that takes place in Portland) and follows the adventures of several different characters, all of whom are linked together by their love of a track called All I Ever Wanted. In real-life, All I Ever Wanted is the work of Michael Brun. In XOXO, it’s the work of a YouTube sensation named Ethan Shaw.
Krystal (Sara Hyland) comes to XOXO specifically so she can meet Jordan, a boy that she has previously only talked to online. Despite having never met him face-to-face, Krystal is convinced that she is in love with Jordan and she wants to hear All I Ever Wanted with him by her side. While her friends run off without her, Krystal wanders around the festival, trying to meet up with the continually elusive Jordan.
(Should I mention that Jordan was also the name of the online predator who attempted to molest Emma in the first episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation? I guess I might as well…)
And then there’s Neil (Chris D’Elia). Neil is old. Neil is burned out, almost as if he spent two years co-starring in a sitcom with Whitney Cummings. Despite having rented a party bus to take people to the festival, Neil claims that he hates the whole scene. Neil, it turns out, is still stuck in the 90s. Is it possible that, after making a lot of cynical comments and wandering around looking glum, Neil will eventually start to dance and get caught up in the redemptive spirit of PLUR? (If you already know what PLUR stands for, you’ll probably enjoy XOXO more than someone who doesn’t.)
Shannie (Hayley Kiyoko) and Ray (Colin Woodell) are attending their final festival together. Shannie will soon be moving away and she and Ray are going to have to try to do the dreaded long distance thing. When they lose their tickets and then discover that the festival is sold out, they don’t riot like everyone else. Instead, they duck into the sewers and try to sneak into the festival. Of course, they get lost along the way but that gives them a chance to talk about their relationship. Shannie and Ray didn’t get as much screentime as some of the characters but I liked them. I related to their relationship and you know what? I also would have found a way to sneak into the concert and hear All I Ever Wanted too.
DJ Avilo (Ryan Hansen), who is hopefully not meant to be a stand-in for the real DJ Avilo, is a superstar but he’s also a jerk. He and his manager (LaMonica Garrett) are notorious for cheating up-and-coming young artists. Fortunately, Avilo does get punched in the face at one point. He deserves it.
And finally, there’s Ethan Shaw (Graham Phillips)! Ethan has suddenly been given a chance to perform at XOXO but he only has 8 hours to get there and get prepared to perform! Will Ethan make it and, once he arrives, will he be tricked by Avilo? Ethan, of course, is an idealist whereas Avilo brags about how he just views everyone in the audience as being a dollar sign. But, Avilo also says that he can make Ethan a star. It doesn’t help that Ethan’s current manager, Tariq (Brett DelBuono) shows up late for the festival and is then kissed by a random girl who just happens to have a tap of LSD on her tongue. While Tariq trips, Ethan struggles to maintain his integrity.
XOXO has been getting a lot of negative reviews but I actually kind of liked it. It’s not a great film by any means but it does a good job of portraying an admittedly exaggerated version of American EDM culture. (If you go to the film’s imdb page, you can find all the usual dismissive comments from Europeans bitching about American and western culture. Any film that pisses off a snooty European can’t be all bad.) The film’s totally predictable but the cast is pretty and the music’s great and really, isn’t that all that really matters?
As one character says, “I created this festival because I like to dance. Dancing is important.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself!