Perky, Pleasing 'Prom'
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
A boppy, precision-engineered cinematic extrusion of cheery, cute, hot-teen perkiness such as is most vividly dreamed of in Disney philosophy, and subsequently manufactured by said entity to fairly exacting standards, "Prom" is an entirely cute and harmless motion picture that ought to be of zero interest to anyone over the age of 17-and-a-half who isn't an industry professional or aspires to be. Granted, this over-50 reviewer got caught up in the hijinks, see-'em-from-a-mile-away plot reversals, and hilariously lite depictions of certain species of teen angst, but I went because it was my job to go. Most other adults are under no such obligation, and might consider staying away while confident that their kids will not come away from the film with any too-unconventional new notions; nor will they have been taught novel ways to "make out" or anything.
The picture begins with a burst of upbeat music and the confident stride of a very upbeat character, high school senior Nova Prescott (Aimee Teegarden), the sort of Miss Perfect who'd be depicted in any other high school film as an uptight distaff martinet. But as this is Disney, she's the real deal: a princess with a good heart who believes in the ideals and values that the senior prom represents (and yes, according to this film, the senior prom represents ideals and values, as opposed to a great excuse/pretext to try to get away with as much illicit behavior as one possibly can. What can I tell you -- I'm old, and I went to an evil high school maybe). Her drones/adjuncts in this tale are the ostensible prom king and queen, studly lacrosse master Tyler (De'Vaughn Nixon) and his gorgeous girlfriend Jordan (Kylie Bunbury); perfect couple Mei and Justin (Yin Chang and Jared Kusnitz), dating since grade school, even; and Nova's fellow go-getter, Brandon, who's sure to ask Nova to be his date. A tier below are various strivers like sophomore rock nerds Lucas and Corey, and Simone, the hottie who threatens to come between them; nerdy Lloyd (NOT as in Dobler), who goes on a relentless and relentlessly nerdy campaign to land a date at the behest of his eager-beaver stepsister (played by a dead ringer for conservative pundit Kathryn Jean Lopez); and oddball Rolo, who seems like a stoner but of course is never depicted partaking, and whose seemingly mythical prom date frustrates the amorous intentions of Ali (played by a dead ringer for alt-erotica icon Joanna Angel).
But wait! Soon all will not be well in this high school paradise! Turns out that Tyler is something of a dawg who wants a little bit of Simone as a side order of Jordan, and is such a skeeve that he falsely befriends poor nerdy Sal Mineo-lookin' Lucas in order to bring the foxy sophomore back into his orbit! A fire burns down the shed that holds all the prom decorations, and Nova has to rebuild them with only the reluctant help (it's his punishment for being such a punk) of the high school's motorcycle-riding prom nonbeliever and bad boy Jesse Richter (Thomas McDonnell)! And Brandon DOESN'T ask Nova to the prom, because it turns out he doesn't like girls -- I mean, has an interview for Princeton on that day!
But wait! Soon things improve! Brandon proves himself to be capable and loyal, and that he ain't no delinquent, he's misunderstood, and the reason he misses class so much is that he's being raised by a single mom, and to help out he takes his adorable helmet-haired moppet little brother (played by a dead ringer for Sarah Silverman) to school every day! And Lucas finally gets the courage to tell foxy Simone how he really feels about her! And the decorations are turning out really great, and Brandon just hasn't been around at all! They just might pull this off!
But wait! Things get bad again! And at this point, the more cynical adult moviegoer of a certain level of viewing experience might say to himself or herself, "OK, this is where it's gonna turn into 'Elephant.'" Ouch. But that's the beautiful thing about this film -- it simply can't go there. And really, do you want it to? No, you don't. Everybody's so cute and attractive in his or her own way (even Tyler, who may by the end have learned a bit of a lesson about how being a dawg don't pay) you want things to turn out, and so they do. The pace is brisk, the soundtrack's bouncy, it really is more like a ride than a movie, and as lies about high school go (ask me to tell you about MY prom sometime), it goes down quite easily.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.