Disney presents a safe-for-kids version of the epic event that is senior prom in Prom, a bland bit of white toast with just the lightest spread of “life lesson learning” jelly.
As a senior class readies for prom, we watch a handful of teens deal with the forthcoming big night in different ways. Doofus Lloyd (Nicholas Braun) can’t seem to find a girl to ask out. Mei (Yin Chang) is anxious about going with longtime boyfriend Justin (Jared Kusnitz) because she’s decided to go to a different college than him and is worried about what he’ll say and whether it will break them up. School jock Tyler (DeVaughn Nixon) is expected to be king to longtime girlfriend Jordan’s (Kylie Bunbury) queen, but he’s also trying to woo sophomore Simone (Danielle Campbell) — apple of age-appropriate classmate Lucas’ (Nolan Sotillo) eye — on the side. And then there’s Nova (Aimee Teegarden), who is dreaming of a perfect night with Brandon (Jonathan Keltz) and has worked hard on decorations to make it so. When all the cardboard stars for the “starry night” motif are destroyed, school bad-boy Jesse (Thomas McDonell) is assigned by the principal to help her repair and remake the trimmings for the night of so many dreams. And since she’s Princess Perfect and he’s Slacker McLeatherjacket, they are clearly meant to be.
Who wants to be that person, the one grumpily saying “bah, humbug” about entertainment that presents high school students as kinder and gentler (not, say, like the jaded 40-somethings they seem to be on shows like Gossip Girl) and prom as sweet (as opposed to, say, a drunken orgy)? Oh, heck, I guess I’ll be that person. Bah, humbug, this movie is awful — it’s clichéd, boring and completely without the magic that it claims prom itself is all about. It captures neither the sweetness that can occur at the end of high school nor the rated-R attractions that give prom its excitement- and anxiety-causing edge. Characters tell us over and over that prom is all about hanging out with friends and classmates one last time but we don’t get any sense of why that’s important to these characters (whom we basically never get to know). Everything in this movie it stated, not shown — the dialogue all sounds like it comes right out of some health-class exercise about making good life choices.
The prom itself happens in maybe the last 15 minutes or so of a painfully slow-moving story that gives time to each one of its paper-thin plots but wears out most of the viewer’s patience with the Nova/Jesse storyline. Nova is whiny and Jesse is a pale imitation of the Judd Nelson character in The Breakfast Club (though John Bender is the very definition of bad-assery compared to this thin shell of an “outsider”). The movie complicates their relationship with some utter nonsense about how her father disapproves of Jesse, all leading up to his delivering a “stay away from my daughter” speech that would have made sense if Jesse had just impregnated Nova but is an atom bomb to shoo an ant in this case. (And of course, nobody in this world is ever impregnated — I’m sure all these teens hatched from Disney-trademarked plush stork eggs.)
It’s not that a prom story has to have sex or that teens have to be as painfully self-aware as the cast of Glee to be believable. But this movie tries to have it both ways — fetishizing prom and completely ignoring any of its realities. We see guys devise elaborate ways of asking girls out to prom (some more involved than most wedding proposals — really? This is a thing now?) but it is shown in the movie as nothing more than a dance in the school gym.
How little connection does this movie have to reality? Jesse, whose family backstory is the most dramatic, is shown as helping his mother care for his little brother. His mother is played by Christine Elise — or, as people of a certain age might better remember her, Emily Valentine, the unhinged troublemaker of Beverley Hills 90210 who stalked Brandon and almost set fire to herself on a homecoming float. Suddenly, I found myself thinking about Donna Martin and her drunken senior prom. Compared to Prom, those old episodes of 90210 look like searing documentaries. D
Rated PG for mild language and a brief fights. Directed by Joe Nussbaum and written by Katie Wech, Prom is an hour and 43 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Walt Disney Pictures.