In the fantasy world of Joe Nussbaum’s Prom, the event known as prom is presented as some great leveler of teendom—a profound moment of solidarity where class, social status and popularity simply melt away and everyone’s the same. I’d love to know where this happens. On Planet Disney maybe? In the confines of first-time screenwriter Katie Wech’s head? Maybe she’s crafted the prom she always dreamed of. Whatever it is, it bears no relation to any prom I ever went to. Perhaps things were different back then when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, but all I remember was everybody gathering together in the same groups they did when they weren’t at prom. It’s possible that everyone is more homogeneous these days, but I kind of doubt it.
Some parents, of course, will like this. They’ll like the utter safeness of it all—a squeaky clean high-school where no one swears, no one’s having sex, there’s no underage drinking and no one ever heard of drugs. This is world where tragedy striking means the prom decorations burn down. If that suits you, fine, but I don’t see anyone beyond very unsavvy 12-year-olds as likely to buy into it. But I guess that’s who it’s aimed at.
What you get in Prom is a cross-section of very familiar plot lines brought to you by the film’s “emerging ensemble” (read: people you mostly never heard of) cast. The major focus, however, is Nova (Aimee Teegarden, who played a victim in Scream 4). She is the living embodiment of prom spirit—even when her charisma-lacking boyfriend (Jonathan Keltz) turns out not to be able to come—but then the decorations are burned and no one has the time to help her. So the school appoints their one resident “bad boy” Jesse (Thomas McDonell, who looks a bit like Johnny Depp, which is probably why he’s been tagged to play young Depp in Dark Shadows). He has long hair, stubble that varies from shot to shot, a motorcycle and an attitude. He’s not happy and neither is she. Where will this lead?
There are other plots—the biggest one involves a case of freshman puppy love that alternates between a smattering of charm and a callousness concerning a friendship versus a crush—but who really cares? The movie hits all the targets it aims for, but it isn’t aiming very high, so it isn’t much of an accomplishment. The prom itself is staggeringly flat. The one in Carrie (1976) had a lot more verve—even before it went wrong. It actually conveyed the supposed magic of the event. Things are pretty bad when a movie that wants to celebrate prom is aced by a horror movie in that regard. Then again, somewhere around the midway point I couldn’t help but think that a bucket of pig blood would liven things up to no end. Rated PG for mild language and a brief fight.