In Disney’s Prom, a bunch of high school seniors go through the rituals of getting ready for their prom: the last big party of high school, their last chance to be together. And as class president/all-around-overachiever Nova (Aimee Teegarden) says, prom is the one night they all get to be equals: no cliques, no high school hierarchy – just one big happy community democratically electing its king and queen.
Nova is the prom organizer, and does a bang-up job of making fantastic decorations (the theme is “Starry Night”) and getting everything ready for the big night. Two problems: The guy she wants to go to prom with, Brandon (Jonathan Keltz), is clueless, and all the prom decorations are destroyed in a fire only three weeks before the big night. Ay-yay-yay.
Brookside High School has another problem, and his name is Jesse Richter (Thomas McDonell). I don’t think that there has ever been a Jesse in a movie who wasn’t a bad boy, and Jesse Richter is no exception. He has long hair! He rides a motorcycle! He has no school spirit! He looks just like Johnny Depp, the ne-plus-ultra pretty movie bad boy!
When the prom decorations go up in flames, the school principal, who has it in for Jesse, punitively decides that he must help Nova rebuild if he wants to graduate. Neither Jesse nor Nova is happy about this arrangement. Cute guy, cute girl, he hates prom, she loves prom, forced to work together: There’s only one way that this can end up. (Not to worry – Jesse is just misunderstood.)
Meanwhile, other students have their own problems. Mei (Yin Chang) doesn’t know how to tell her boyfriend that she’s not going to college with him, so he thinks that she just doesn’t want to go to prom with him; Jordan (Kylie Bunbury) thinks that her boyfriend and prom date, lacrosse jock and Big Man on Campus Tyler (DeVaughn Nixon), is cheating on her, and she’s right. And the other girl is Simone (Danielle Campbell), who is the object of Lucas’ (Nolan Sotillo) affections. Simone can’t seem to decide between cute, nice, nerdy Lucas and popular-but-self-centered playa Tyler.
The exceptionally tall Lloyd (Nicholas Braun) can’t find a date because he has spent his entire high school career being a wallflower. Rolo (Joe Adler) provides additional comic relief with a story about a too-good-to-be-true Greek/Canadian girlfriend named Athena. This is not a school with a vampire or teen pregnancy problem, but it does have a lot of prom-related agita.
Written by Katie Wech and directed by Joe Nussbaum, Prom is cute, pretty wholesome and mild-mannered. It takes teen angst seriously, even if the problems that these kids face are not exactly earth-shaking. That is, Prom accepts that when you’re a high school senior, about to go out into the world, leaving friends and family behind, your prom can be ridiculously important and meaningful in a way that, looking back years later, you will only wonder at – because when you’re that age, everything is serious and important.
Prom for the kids of Brookside High School is a source of genuine distress, joy, grief, anguish, disappointment and jubilation – a time to sort out feelings, sort out friendships and find love with a girl or guy you never noticed before. And while Prom evokes lots of teen-dream films that went before it – especially John Hughes’s teen films – it never quite rises to that Hughesian level of emotional grandiosity. It is more like Disney’s High School Musical movies: fun, cute, perky, unobjectionable. These kids have problems that can be solved, and misunderstandings that can be resolved before the mirror ball stops spinning.
Syd’s pick: Check out John Hughes’s teen angst classic Sixteen Candles
When John Hughes died in 2009 at the age of 59, he left behind an influential body of work. He directed only eight films, but he wrote almost 40, and his 1980s films about teenagers were groundbreaking in the way that they took teens seriously as people – as individuals with real problems and real dreams. Take Sixteen Candles, his 1984 comedy about Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald), whose family forgets about her 16th birthday in all the chaos surrounding her older sister’s upcoming wedding.
To this day, the best-known character from Sixteen Candles is the controversial Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), considered by many Asian-Americans (and not without justification) to be emblematic of the worst Hollywood stereotypes about Asians. The Donger is an embarrassment, but the entire movie is a comical nightmare of assorted embarrassments and humiliations. It’s also a moving, charming coming-of-age story from an earnest filmmaker who treated teenage concerns – even the minor ones – as important and worthy of attention.
@ Syd M