I admit it, I didn’t have high expectations for Disney’s upcoming teen romance Prom. How could a movie about a glorified high school dance either entertain or elevate? At best, it would be a tedious mish mash of teen movies from the past few decades. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Prom’s charming wholesomeness. In theatres everywhere on April 29th, this fluff piece delivers some cute moments and sweet (if sometimes embarrassing) high school whimsy.
All the high school stereotypes are there: the jock, the princess, the overachiever, the loner, the geek…all intertwining in a story not only about the senior prom, but about self-acceptance. Ultimate good girl and class president Nova Prescott (Aimee Teegarden) is on a mission to create the greatest prom ever. She owes it to her classmates, after all. It’s an honor thing, and a cause she believes in so wholeheartedly she helms the prom committee. The only problem is, the clean-cut boy she really likes hasn’t asked her to the prom, and in a tragic accident all the prom decorations burn up.
Not one to give up, Nova decides she will make/repair every prom decoration in the two weeks remaining before P-Day. Her prom committee kind of dissolves in the aftermath of the fire, and unilaterally refuses to do anymore work on the prom. Luckily for Nova, apathetic loner and miscreant Jesse Richter (Thomas McDonell) is on hand to help her out. Of course it’s against his will, but the principal threatens to keep him back if he doesn’t come to Nova’s aid. As Jesse discovers the vulnerable integrity behind Nova’s well-groomed and confident exterior, she sees beyond his long hair and high school criminal record.
Other character’s stories are woven together in the movie to make a truly ensemble film. There is Nova’s best bud Simone (Danielle Campbell) and her long-time cheating boyfriend. Awkward wall flower Lloyd (Nicholas Braun) is prodded on by his sister to get a date for the prom, and as he puts himself out there he realizes his classmates are completely unaware of him. Meanwhile uber geeks Lucas (Nolan Sotillo) and Corey (Cameron Monaghan) find their friendship put to the test as Lucas falls for a cute sophomore and forgets who his real friends are.
Beyond the cuteness of the story, I noticed a valiant attempt to capture the spirit of the John Hughes oeuvre. There was even a Breakfast Club moment as Nova and Jesse break into the high school and run down hallway after hallway, dodging the school’s night guard. It was even in the way the scenes were shot edited with a back-and-forth play between the teens running and laughing, and the disgruntled guard hopelessly puffing after them. Though there were some nice homage moments, Prom lacked the subtle social commentary of John Hughes’ films, as well as the angst. Too much High School Musical and not enough Heathers.
The directing by Joel Nussbaum was on the pedantic side, apart from the few scenes that were obvious attempts at recreating film moments from John Hughes‘ stuff. The script by relative newcomer Katie Wech also didn‘t dazzle. It was a wholesome, simple teen romance that worked as well as it did because of the myriad of colorful characters (yes, stereotypical but still colorful).
In terms of acting we got competent performances from the whole cast, with the stand-outs being McDonell (with dark smoldering looks and charm, I saw a young Johnny Depp), and Braun, who plays the geeky loser. All but unknown to his classmates, Braun played the role of the dateless wall-flower with a palpably awkward wit. Braun reminded me of a young Cusack, before fame and age gave him that jaded seriousness.
The film was heavy on the stereotypes, understandably, and not just of the character kind. There were many well-rehearsed relationship stereotypes, like the ultimate ‘good girl falling for the bad boy’ whammy. They did attempt ethnic diversity to. At a high school crammed with white, well-dressed and attractive students, the token minorities in the core group of characters stood out like a sore thumb (or like what they were; an obvious attempt at attracting a more diverse audience by throwing in the whitest minorities I’ve ever seen).
While working so hard at diversity, filmmakers missed the diversity that would have made a huge difference; diversity of attractiveness. From the cute blonde lead to the even cuter lovelorn uber geek, everyone was good-looking (and while I realize that is highly subjective, I think we can all agree they weren’t unattractive.)
But I think the greatest challenge of the film was trying to make the prom seem important. Glorifying what is in fact a silly high school dance is a tricky business. It was a hard sell toward the beginning of the film, as Nova pushed the honor and gravitas of delivering the most awesome prom ever to her class. The first third of the film busied itself with setting up how important asking someone to the prom was. The film got a little tedious with a myriad of scenes with different methods of popping the all-important question: Prom?
Don’t expect a film of depth or lasting artistic merit. Prom does deliver some wholesome family-oriented themes, like believing in yourself and accepting yourself as you are. And the sweetness of the story was a relief after what I imagined it would be (think prom-themed American Pie). So other than suffering from the normal ‘pretty people with pretty problems’ syndrome, Prom kind of played like a senior yearbook. Full of moments that will make everyone who has gone to high school sigh or smirk, the film is a sweet romance that will reach out to more than the adolescents.