Theatrical Review: PROM
Writer: Katie Wech
Director: Joe Nussbaum
Cast: Aimee Teegarden, Thomas McDonell, DeVaughn Nixon, Danielle Campbell, Yin Chang, Jared Kusnitz, Nolan Sotillo, Cameron Monaghan, Nicholas Braun
The first act of PROM verges on insufferable – capped off by a quickfire montage of boys asking girls to the big dance in the most gimmicky ways possible, so rapidly presented that it may trigger PTSD in anyone who had a bad prom experience. However, it does get better, especially as the film settles into itself and its large pool of characters. There’s no LOVE ACTUALLY tie-in tricks here - some of the characters in the film know each other and have connecting stories, some don’t. The link is that they all attend the same high school and are all having some sort of issue creating a positive prom experience.
Once we “know” everyone and the basic outline of their stories, PROM eases up significantly and becomes a mostly-charming little family-friendly film. It’s innocent to the point of being innocuous, but there is some good stuff in here – some light lessons about friendship, family, finding (and being) yourself, bravery, honesty, young love, and navigating it all against the nightmarish background of high school.
The main story in PROM is also the most cliché – it revolves around Aimee Teegarden’s good girl overachiever character, Nova, and Thomas McDonell’s motorcycle-driving bad boy “with a secret,” Jesse. You can probably see where this is going to go. Teegarden and McDonell don’t break much new ground with their story, but their characters slowly develop a very sweet and lovely chemistry throughout the course of the film that becomes nearly impossible to not root for. It’s to PROM’s credit that the biggest story within it is also the best, and that its focus is, at the very least, correctly aimed.
We also get a complicated (well, as complicated as things are going to get) love triangle (square? pentagon?) involving the sweet-natured Lucas (Nolan Sotillo) and the doe-eyed Simone (Danielle Campbell), who may also have something going on with Big Man on Campus Tyler (a wonderfully loathsome DeVaughn Nixon), who already has a gorgeous girlfriend named Jordan (Kylie Bunbury). Oh, and Lucas also has a really wonderful best friend that he’s started ditching in order to hang out with Simone. But there is also Nova’s best friend Mei (Yin Chang) and her boyfriend, Justin (Jared Kusnitz, who should look familiar to some, thanks to his work in the hilarious DANCE OF THE DEAD), who are facing some growing pains as a couple. For comic relief, we get Nicholas Braun’s Lloyd, a senior without a date who launches a full-scale attack on the girls of his high school, desperate to land a lady for the big night. And then there’s some strange side story involving burnout Rolo (Joe Adler) and his possibly pretend Greek-Canadian girlfriend and pal Ali’s (Janelle Ortiz) quest to find out if she’s real or not. But it really is less complicated than it sounds. It’s also less funny, but slightly more charming.
As a Disney production, PROM is pretty sanitized and standard stuff. While the film is populated by an equal mix of sexes, ethnicities, and ages (and kudos to Disney for casting many young actors and actresses who can believably play teenagers), it is free of anything that even remotely resembles sexual intrigue or controversy (no one is getting pregnant at this prom; but also, no gay couples are attending this prom). There’s no sex, no drugs, no hint of any of that. Even the one kid who, in any other film, would be the token stoner, is just a really big fan of candy (hence his nickname, “Rolo”) who spaces out occasionally.
These PROM-goers do have some issues to face – there’s some teenage infidelity, a broken family, a kid prone to acting out with his fists, the cops even show up once – but there’s nothing here that will detract from a happy ending for everyone involved. There’s nothing wrong with presenting an excessively clean version of high school and teenagers to an audience. In fact, it’s actually somewhat refreshing. PROM is most definitely a “family film,” gentle enough for almost every age, though I don’t know if grandpa is going to be interested in watching a bunch of young whippersnappers dance around to the thumping tones of Katy Perry, but you never know.
There’s nothing slick or bold about PROM, and it comes together with okay acting and decent storylines to form a sort of John Hughes lite (very lite) take on the Modern American High School Experience. It’s all-around innocent and plain-faced, good for a couple of spins around the dance floor, a trip or two to the punch bowl, but ultimately as transitory as a high school prom itself.