Project Almanac Is a Michael Bay Teen Time Travel Movie. Enough Said.
The best I can say about Project Almanac is that it wasn't a complete disaster. This is actually saying something, as a " Michael Bay teen-oriented found-footage time travel drama" sounds like a list of annoying things rather than a description of a movie. The young cast was likable and talented, the dialogue was mostly natural and occasionally even witty, and the film overall was perfectly entertaining. But the found-footage gimmick was unnecessary and irritating (as it is 99% of the time), the character development was non-existent with a splash of trademark Michael Bay sexism, and the time travel storyline was incoherent to a distracting degree, especially for sci-fi fans.
At certain points in the movie, particularly during an amusing detour at Lollapalooza, I thought the movie might have been better if it had just been a sweet, silly drama about these teenagers doing silly things. This is entirely a testament to the cast, who both individual talent and an easy rapport. The two love interests in particular, played endearingly by Insurgent's Jonny Weston and Gossip Girl's Sofia Black-D'Elia, who will also star in the upcoming sci-fi series The Messengers, had enough chemistry and charm that you almost forgot their relationship was based on essentially nothing and their characters didn't have any kind of arc to speak of. From a writing perspective, the characters were 100% ciphers, with only the love interests humanized to any degree and none of the characters developed.
So I can't complain that the female characters weren't three-dimensional, because none of the boys even approached being three-dimensional either. But I can complain about the fact that the boys were portrayed as intelligent while the girls were portrayed as shallow and often stupid. Sofia Black-D'Elia's Jessie at least got to be vulnerable and somewhat grounded, but Kristina was solely characterized as a "hot blonde," to the point that a sequence in which she's supposedly being "bullied" rings completely false. And I can't stress enough that these girls were both outrageously objectified by the camerawork. If you ever forgot that you were watching a Michael Bay movie, there was an inappropriately close-up shot or pan of a young girl's cleavage and/or legs to remind you. Especially poor Ginny Gardner, who played Kristina, hardly got to be on camera at all, and when she was she had to either make out with someone or shove the camera down her shirt. It was a credit to the movie that they managed to cast actors who looked like they could be in high school, but that also made the objectification of these young women even creepier.
(Side note: I've made a lot of jokes about Michael Bay, but the screenwriters admitted to Collider that an "unfavorable" character is named after a girl whom they both unknowingly dated. This does not make them misogynistic on its own, but it doesn't bode well. Admitting this in public, especially, is a little close to slut-shaming for my comfort.)
The found footage was, predictably, unnecessary and at times ridiculously contrived, and also made some of the action sequences confusing and dramatically decreased their impact. But the time travel conceit was the more egregious flaw, as it made absolutely no sense. I realize that almost time travel plots will have some paradoxes and/or inconsistencies, but the ones in Project Almanac were often too glaring to ignore for entertainment's sake, mostly because they couldn't decide what kind of time travel story they wanted to tell. There are two basic types of time travel plots: ones in which you can change the past/future and the ones in which you can't. The movie's events are instigated by David finding footage of his 17-year-old self at his seventh birthday party. This establishes that everything they do in the timeline in which they change the past has already happened, so going back to the past wouldn't change the future, which kind of kills the entire premise of the movie, not to mention makes the ending completely ludicrous.
Some are calling Project Almanac "self-aware" because it mentioned other time travel movies, but name-dropping isn't really the same as self-awareness. In one telling sequence, the kids draw on one of their past selves in order to test to see if the time travel rules are the same as Looper. First of all, they're ripping off a conceit that didn't even really make sense in the movie they're ripping off. But at least Looper's incoherence was somewhat saved by a cheeky scene in which Bruce Willis basically says, "Really? Do you want me to explain the rules of time travel to you right now, or do you want to get back to our regularly scheduled programming?" It was the perfect scene to tell the audience, "we're not trying to do anything groundbreaking, we're just trying to entertain you, so stop worrying so much about the rules." While this might be a little bit of a cop-out, it's still a much more substantive form of self-awareness than Project Almanac can boast.