Film Review: ‘XOXO’ is an unoriginal story about EDM culture


xoxo posterThe streaming service’s latest original film, “XOXO” (no connection to the Portland festival of the same name) revolves around the titular electronic and dance music festival and how the lives of six attending strangers intersect during a feverishly blissful, romantic night.

If Hollywood has learned any lessons about making films about DJ’s after last year’s box-office and critical bomb “We Are Your Friends”, they have all been forgotten. If only Netflix had remembered.

Ethan (Graham Phillips) is a young and eager Youtube sensation, whose latest EDM single has reached over 1 million views. Attempting to bank on his friend’s talent and rising success, Tariq (Brett DelBuono), who is also Ethan’s manager, books him a DJ slot at XOXO, giving the nervous and excited Ethan only hours to find a ride to the venue.

Hoping to hear Ethan perform is Shannie (Hayley Kiyoko) and her boyfriend Ray (Colin Woodell), a couple hoping to spend one amazing night together before one of them moves to New York.

Unfortunately, there’s trouble for the aspiring DJ and the couple when the bus they’re on breaks down a few miles before their destination. Sharing their ride is Neil (Chris D’Elia) a curmudgeon record store employee obligated to be there and who shares his anathema towards the niche genre and the extravagant culture that celebrates it.

Then there’s Krystal (Sarah Hyland), a chirpy, drug abstaining young woman traveling with some girlfriends to the festival, who also can’t wait to physically connect with an online fling for the first time.

All of this occurs between hallucinogenic ventures and the colorful parades of costumes and decorative accoutrements – rainbow buns, bedazzled faces, groovy eye-shadow. You could say the free-spirited culture of EDM is probably made up of the love-children of John Lennon and Lisa Frank. One easily understands why Neil is loath to befriend the fairy-winged fans who chant : “Eat. Sleep. Rave. Repeat.” as their simple-minded mantra. And for the most part he’s right.

Krystal makes the heart-felt argument that the festival is an opportunity for people who wouldn’t normally meet to connect and rejoice in that ephemeral, magnetic moment. And, I suppose that’s what the film does – it attempts to capture the high of said moment, revoking reality and asking us to accept that everyone’s dreams will and can come true and whatever happens in the morning is irrelevant.

The film, the first feature by director Christopher Louie, is an underwhelming spectacle full of trite messages about making a connection and letting go of your inhibitions – because nothing else matters, apparently, not throwing away your life for a career gamble, not possibly getting sexually assaulted to meet the man of your text-message dreams and not crawling through human waste to sneak in to see a DJ with a hubris as big as his ticket sales perform.

There are a few honest souls, Krystal and Ethan for example, who have a genuine love for the music and atmosphere, but who become rapaciously ensconced in a world full of drugs, ulterior motives and those who try to exploit the innocent. Too often, the film crosses over into the world of Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” a scary place full of numb young people with little worry. At the very least, this bunch isn’t trying to hurt each other, but if Louie is trying to make up for the film’s vapidness with cliché bookends to everyone’s story, he was wrong. Because unlike the XOXO crowd, the film’s audience is sober.

What’s most disappointing is that the music, as much as it’s hyped up, is soulless – a forgettable assortment of beats that sound like the background tunes to the latest uninspired hit frequenting clubs and spun by over-celebrated DJ’s. But then again, that music is popular for some reason, so maybe I’m wrong that this film will find a welcoming audience.

XOXO” is too predictable to be endearing, too quixotic to feel truthful and too mediocre to be worth your time. Best to skip this strobe lighting mess.

XOXO” is released by Netflix and is currently streaming.

Grade: (★)