As plot goes, it's Mickey Mouse
By Sandie Angulo Chen
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
For movie lovers, prom evokes cinematic memories of pig’s blood in buckets, virginity-losing contests and “Pygmalion”-style makeovers. You’ll find none of those things in “Prom,” Disney’s chaste take on the annual high school spectacular. Nor will you find much excitement, tension or resemblance to actual teen culture in this whitewash of the quintessential rite of passage.
Director Joe Nussbaum’s story follows Georgetown-bound class president Nova Prescott (Aimee Teegarden, fresh off her role in “Scream 4”) as she plans her school’s “Starry Night” bash. In her opening voice-over, Prescott describes prom as the one perfect night that unites all high school seniors, regardless of their social standing the past four years. In the 20 minutes that follow this idealistic and unrealistic appraisal, guys devise increasingly theatrical invitations to the big night: “PROM?” the guys ask — with sidewalk chalk, window signs, stage lights and chest paint. Despite all that, Nova’s date, hunky but sensible valedictorian Brandon, merely asks Nova to “carpool” and hands her a ticket.
Already reeling from her slug-line treatment, Nova faces another early tragedy when all of the prom decorations catch fire three weeks before the big night (the closest this pic gets to the prom-night catastrophe of “Carrie”). To save the party, Principal Dunnan (Jere Burns) orders Jesse Richter (Thomas McDonell), a motorcycle-riding truant, to help Nova rebuild everything in order to graduate. She’s a conformist overachiever, he’s a troubled soul; a third-grader could tell that the two will fall hard for each other by the movie’s halfway point.
When this teen drama hits Disney’s cable network, as it inevitably will, the studio’s basic-cable censors will have absolutely nothing to cut, and that’s the problem. A pure-and-clean prom movie is perfectly fine for a television special, like the original “High School Musical,” but in a feature film, it plays as shockingly inauthentic.
In “Prom,” none of the kisses are swoon-worthy (on the big screen, a foot of space between kissing teens is laughably noticeable) and all the infidelities are insignificant. After Tyler (DeVaughn Nixon), the dreamy lacrosse captain, secretly dates a pretty sophomore, scorned girlfriend Jordan (Kylie Bunbury) doesn’t shed one tear; she just dumps him the week before prom and robotically takes down all the pictures of him in her room. Even Lloyd (Nicholas Braun), the one senior who threatens to upset the pro-prom premise by failing to find a date, comes off as charmingly witty and winds up taking his younger step-sister.
The Bad Boy in “Prom” isn’t even a bad boy. Jesse looks the part, with his brooding eyes and floppy hair reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s breakout performance in “10 Things I Hate About You,” but he’s actually a devoted son to a working-class single mom. The real reason he ditches last period is to pick up his kid brother from elementary school. When Nova’s dad warns Jesse to leave his good girl alone, you’ve got to wonder how he would’ve reacted if someone genuinely edgy (say, Judd Nelson’s John Bender from “The Breakfast Club”) had shown up with his pack of smokes instead of a candy necklace in his pocket.
In “Prom,” everyone’s perfectly multicultural but no one’s unattractive, angsty, subversive or an outcast. Nobody curses, texts or talks about sex (much less plans to have it). Obviously, not every teen movie needs to be a raunchy, drug-filled cautionary tale to be believable, but this movie fails to acknowledge that 18-year-olds behave any differently from 11-year-olds at their fifth-grade dance. As a result, ’tweens might make the ideal audience, because anyone old enough to attend or remember a prom will have trouble not laughing aloud.
If there’s a middle way of depicting teen romance that’s neither as crude as “American Pie” nor as tame as Disney Channel fodder, “Prom” missed it.
Contains a brief fistfight.