Directed by: Joe Nussbaum
Premise: An ensemble story of a group of teenagers preparing for their high school prom.
What Works: Prom is a very uneven film but it has some genuinely good elements. A few of the actors show some talent, especially Thomas McDonell, who has easily the best written role in the film, and the banter between a pair of music obsessed underclassmen played by Nolan Sotillo and Cameron Monaghan has a genuine feel to it. For older viewers, the appeal of these teenage stories is in the way they allow the audience to relive an idealized version of youth that has little to do with their actual adolescent experience. For younger viewers, these films address the traditions and rites of passage that are looming before them and provide a safe and romanticized version in which all of their dreams will come true. In that respect, Prom does its job as characters face the standard conflicts of adolescent love stories and come to a safe, preordained resolution.
What Doesn’t: Prom maintains the cinematic myth of high school and it does nothing to challenge or even advance that myth. This is a classic trap of many films built around social institutions or traditions like high school events, weddings, and holidays; the filmmakers are so convinced that by locating the characters of the story around this event that whatever importance that facet of social life has will automatically rub off on the film and thereby elevate it to profundity. Prom falls headlong into this trap. Many characters in the film make reference to the idea that the prom will be a special, unforgettable, life defining event and the film buys into that notion without ever providing anything in the story that actually qualifies that hype. This gets at a broader fault of Prom and of films that take place in high school. After decades of movies like this, high school pictures have created their own reality that has less to do with the realities of youth or schooling and more to do with the fantasy of it exemplified in films like Grease and television shows like Gossip Girl. In the case of Prom, it would seem that the filmmakers behind it watched every single high school film of the last thirty years, but especially those of the 1980s, and managed to cram as many references to those pictures as is possible in a ninety minute story. The sensitive rebel played by Thomas McDonell and the principal played by Jere Burns are carbon copies of Judd Nelson and Paul Gleeson in The Breakfast Club, the geeky underclassman played by Nolan Sotillo is very much like Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles, the stoner played by Joe Adler is a less amusing incarnation of Sean Penn in Fast Times and Ridgemont High, the shy but bright teen played by Nicholas Braun is very much a mirror of John Cusack in Say Anything, and the class president played by Aimee Teegarden is cut from the same cloth as from Reese Witherspoon’s over achiever in Election. By casting its characters from this menu of Hollywood high school archetypes, the film commits itself and its genre deeper into an illusion that is gradually getting further from reality.
Bottom Line: For those who are suckers for this kind of film, Prom will satisfy. It is highly derivative and packed with clichés but its target audience ought to eat it up like the cinematic comfort food that it is.
Episode: #340 (May 22, 2011)