Katie Wech, the screenwriter of Prom, claims the film is loosely based on her own prom experiences, as well as stories she collected from former classmates. I’m inclined to believe her, but only because she qualified her statement with the word “loosely.” In spite of the repeated assertions that the film is an authentic account of teenage life, Prom could not be less realistic if the characters had been Martians and it had been animated. I can say this with confidence, simply because I was myself a teenager at one time. I think the issue here is that, although the film is populated by high schoolers and centers on an exclusively high-school event, it was clearly made for audiences who have not yet advanced to those four years. In the most awkward of ways, the film is sweet and innocent.
Taking place in Michigan, the plot is divided into several character vignettes, all of which are so simple-minded and predictable that they border on parody – indeed, incredulous laughter spread throughout the screening room on more than one occasion. The central character is the perfect overachiever Nova Prescott (Aimee Teegarden), who’s not only senior class president but is also the head organizer of the upcoming prom; she oversees the creation of decorations, assigns tasks to her committee, and eagerly tapes event posters all over the school. She’s determined to make this year’s prom a night to remember. When it comes to potential dates, she drops subtle hints to her equally ambitious colleague, Brandon (Jonathan Keltz), whose obtuseness puts the isosceles triangle to shame.
When an accidental fire destroys all the decorations just three weeks before prom, Nova is faced with the monumental task of redesigning, rebuilding, and redecorating without any help. Assigned as her aide is Jesse Richter (Thomas McDonell), the long-haired, motorcycle-riding punk who regularly cuts class, has no prospects, and wants nothing to do with prom. Everyone in town has written him off, including Nova’s father (Dean Norris) and the mean school principal (Jere Burns). Jesse and Nova hit it off like oil and water – and that should tell you everything you need to know about where this is going. Would it surprise you to learn that, deep down, he’s really a good kid? I leave it to you to discover how this is revealed, but considering the kind of movie this is, chances are you already have a pretty good idea.
A quick rundown of the other characters. There’s Jordan (Kylie Bunbury), who everyone believes is destined to become Prom Queen. Her date is Tyler (De’Vaughn Nixon), star athlete of the school’s lacrosse team; he is in fact a womanizing jerk who’s secretly dating Simone (Danielle Campbell), a friendly but naive young woman. There’s Mei (Yin Chang), who has been in a long relationship with Justin (Jared Kusnitz), the sweetest, most understanding guy on campus. He believes that, together, they will be attending college in Michigan. She has yet to tell him she has been accepted into a New York college, and that she may go. There’s Lloyd (Nicholas Braun), a nonentity if ever there was one. Every attempt at asking a girl to prom ends in humiliating rejection. Are we supposed to find his plight funny? In real life, a teen like Lloyd would in all likelihood be a suicide risk.
There’s Lucas and his best friend, Corey (Nolan Sotillo and Cameron Monaghan), sophomore indie rock geeks and lacrosse players. Lucas has a crush on Simone, although he lacks the confidence to tell her how he really feels. Corey tries to help as best he can, although he would rather keep Lucas to himself. I know what you’re thinking – I thought it, too. Since they’re sophomores, neither will be attending prom; given the title, this begs the question of why they were included in the first place. Finally, there’s Rolo (Joe Adler), an annoyingly clueless and laid-back guy who’s protected by his own weirdness. His prom date, he claims, is a Greek Canadian knockout who will be wearing a designer dress. The school’s gossip girl, Ali (Janelle Ortiz), is especially skeptical and spends most of the film nosing her way into his business.
The film is loaded with manufactured comedy relief, which is probably why I found myself giggling in all the wrong places. For me, the only genuinely funny scene is where Nova drags Jesse to a local clothing boutique; as she tries on different dresses, he sits uncomfortably while one of the clerks serves him tea. There’s also a quietly charming moment in which Simone teaches Lucas how to properly hold a guitar and play a C chord. The actors are for the most part bright, fresh-faced, and photogenic, which must count for something in a movie this painfully juvenile. Believe it or not, I actually want people age twenty and up to see Prom, not because I think they will enjoy it, but because I’m curious to see how accurately they think it depicts the high school experience. I suspect I wouldn’t at all be surprised by the results.