Director: Joe Nussbaum
Runtime: 104 Min
Ah, prom, that yearly event that forces boys into tuxedos, girls into gowns and parents into renting limos. It’s a carefree, lighthearted final romp with your high school classmates before you’re off to college or jobs or whatever else comes after graduation. Or, if you listen to television and movies, it’s the single most transcendent evening that will ever grace the life of a young person (bar/bah mitzvahs be damned!).
This is most certainly the case for Disney’s PROM, a movie whose all-caps title shows just how much is at stake. The film opens with voice-over provided by Nova Prescott (Amiee Teegarden, from the Friday Night Lights television series) explaining that prom is the apex of all things high school, spoken over a montage of photos of the cast as they go through their fictional high school careers. It’s indicative of the film to come, but for all the wrong reasons. The characters have as much depth as a photo, while most of the remarkable bits from the film are copied from other teenage pictures.
It’s a thin script, spread thinner by the sheer amount of cast members and teenage problems crammed into it. In some ways it’s incredibly fair: instead of one story overshadowing the others, each is under-developed equally. At the center (based on screen time, not investment of character) is Nova, the prom committee head/student body president/Georgetown scholarship-recipient who believes in the power of prom in a dogmatic fashion. She has a crush on a fellow prom committee member, the hunky-but-aloof Princeton-bound Brandon (Jonathan Keltz), who she reeeaaallly wants to go to prom with. Alas, it is not to be.
To add to Nova’s problems, the prom decorations go up and smoke and, with the rest of the committee members busy finishing up the school year, Nova is forced by the principal to rebuild the decorations with bad-boy Jesse Richter (Thomas McDonnell). It’s an impossible mission: Jesse doesn’t care about anyone or anything, which is why he has long hair, a dollop of five o’clock shadow and a motorcycle. It’s very much like 10 Things I Hate About You, if you didn’t care that much about the characters involved.
And that is ultimately the downfall of this film. It’s clear that the filmmakers made a point to include almost every race, color, and creed possible, which results in a cast that could theoretically have attended high school somewhere other than most high school stories centered in Modeltown, CA. The cast is talented, but with a script this thin, writer Katie Wech sets them off to walk the tight rope without giving them much of a net. Much of the stories succeed or fail based on the actors’ investment in the fluff.
In this mix of rookies and seasoned veterans, some stories pop (Nicholas Braun trying to find a prom date, Joe Adler as the affable stoner, Teegarden’s overall charm), some suffer (the forced friendship of Nolan Sotillo and Cameron Monaghan that lacks a refined touch), some exist to allow the actors to smolder (Danielle Campbell and McDonnell) and some just seem absolutely superfluous (Kylie Bunbury gets five minutes to look pretty, Janelle Ortiz follows one easily-guessed joke throughout), and that’s without mentioning another 10 or so characters.
To make up for the dearth of depth, the film relies on old high school movie standbys to get you through the action, making it less of an original movie and more of a greatest high school hits compilation. There’s a prom dress show-off that matches the Pretty Woman “let’s get you a gown” montage with a shoe-horned in She’s All That-style reveal. There’s a race through the halls of an abandoned school that apes The Breakfast Club ostensibly just because it can. The film asks you to invest in these characters because they’re there and you know their struggles because they are hackneyed. And, at the very least, you’ve seen a version of all of these small stories before.
That said, it is a well-directed film; Joe Nussbaum no doubt learned on American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile how to make a movie like this. And it looks fantastic, shot by Byron Shah with a mixture of bright diffused lights and late spring/early summer hues throughout. That said, for a film that focuses this much on a clean, glossy presentation, the make-up is oddly poor. We’ve come to expect some age differences between performer and role (DeVaughn Nixon looks like he could adopt half the cast) but some shots make the actual young adults look like thirty-year-olds in fifteen-year-old bodies and clothes. I won’t list the names and the instances, but they are plentiful…and creepy.
Like the event itself, your enjoyment of PROM will hinge on your expectations. As someone who attended his senior prom seven years ago, I don’t necessarily fit the target audience. High school movies these days are made for tweens who aspire to be in high school, and it’s perfectly set-up for that audience (especially girls). It’s a high-pitch melodrama that runs the gamut of highs and lows, filled with requisite moments for the audience to audibly gasp, squeal, and “aaww” collectively, though they’re very rarely earned (just wait for the one instance that “love” is dropped and comes completely out of left field).
No doubt the throngs of tweens will file out of the movie theater while photos from the film’s fictional prom are shown, dreaming about what their experience at prom will be like and if it will match up with this one. With my big dance behind me, the montage did trigger memories: memories of enjoying other films that deal with high school and prom.
Prom hits theaters this Friday, April 29th.
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