Normally I don’t review movies past their general release time unless they are part of a list of some sort, but after wading through the vast wasteland that is streaming Netflix in search of something mildly entertaining to watch, I came across a film so completely vapid and underwhelming I was compelled to do so. The movie in question was Disney’s Prom. Also, prom season is coming up, so I guess in a way I’m being topical. Generally I have enjoyed most flicks released under the Disney banner, though I am way past their target demographic, if only for their usually satisfying cheesiness. Though this film was heavily promoted last year when it was released, it failed to make a dent in the box office, and after watching it, it’s easy to see why that was so. Prom is such a disaster of a film on so many levels that I truly don’t know where to begin, so I might as well begin with what it’s not: this is definitely not High School Musical. Normally, this would not be a bad thing– I wasn’t impressed with HSM for a number of reasons, not the least of which was its utilization of clunky lyrics like “Stump Stump Stump, Do the Rump”– but it’s heaps better than Prom. In fact, I’ve seen several recent Disney films relegated to their cable channel which were more worthy of theatrical release than this one. Lemonade Mouth or the Phineas and Ferb movie or Geek Charming or… well, you get the idea.
Okays, now that I am done venting randomly, I guess I shall proceed to deconstruct the reasons why I found this movie so hateworthy. From the opening credits, it was trying too hard– they are a direct ripoff of the credits from Napoleon Dynamite– to represent the high school experience. Less than ten minutes in, I was already scratching my head at how unrealistic it was. Why is the simple action of asking someone to go to the prom treated here with the same gravity as a marriage proposal? Two characters who have been dating for what seems ostensibly some time don’t treat going to the prom as a given (“You haven’t asked me!”) and every single character comes up with some glibly witty way to ask their significant other besides the obvious, “Hey, you wanna go to the prom?” We are treated to a light show of the letters P-R-O-M accompanied by some sort of free verse incorporating each of the letters by one enterprising dude– in this movie, only the dudes do the asking– and a huge display of candles from another. I mean, who does that? When main character Nova’s crush finally asks her to attend with him, without bells or whistles, it’s presented as a huge social gaffe which she has every right to be miffed about. Then he has to back out because he has a scholarship interview at Princeton the same weekend, which is naturally upsetting to your average 17-year-old, but it’s freaking Princeton. At the end of the film, he has obviously made a huge effort to get back to their Michigan hometown to make it to the prom (last I checked, Princeton was quite far away), but Nova gives him the cold shoulder anyway. The reason she does this is that she has been charmed by the biggest high-school-movie cliche of all, the bad boy with the heart of gold, who in this case has been forced to help her with emergency decorations for the Big Dance after the candle stunt mentioned earlier ended up burning down the storage shed where the original decos were kept. Nova, an overachieving type, is of course going to clash with this motorcycle-riding, long-haired rebel before ultimately falling for him, because this always happens in these movies.
There are almost too many subplots to keep straight. One girl has been accepted to a prestigious design school in New York and is for some reason reluctant to tell her boyfriend, resulting in tension which is way too easily resolved and could have been avoided altogether with a little old-fashioned honesty. The school sad sack is supposed to provide comic relief in his botched, cringeworthy attempts to get a date; he ends up taking his sister(the only bright spot in the movie, an ebullient Raini Rodriguez) and apparently hooking up with a character we hadn’t seen (or missed) since the beginning of the film. And then there is the side plot to end all side plots, which almost has to be seen to be believed, and the root source of why I found this movie to be so offensive instead of merely cheesy, but which I have to attempt to explain in order to properly define Prom as the train wreck it is. Okay, there’s this freshman geek who warms the bench for the lacrosse team with his best friend. The geek has a crush on a cute sophomore girl with whom he is lab partners. The sophomore girl has or had a crush on the captain of said lacrosse team, which is evidently reciprocated, though the team captain is already dating the head cheerleader. He doesn’t want to break up with the head cheerleader because he expects them to be crowned prom king and queen together, but he still wants to make time with the attractive sophomore on the side. She is repulsed by this behavior, but somehow retains feelings for him. Anyway, the lacrosse captain notices that the benchwarming geek and the cute girl are friendly, so he invites the geek to a picnic at his house and tells him to bring a friend. The thrilled geek initially wants to bring his bestie, but the captain informs him that he means to bring a date, assuming that the geek will bring the sophomore he likes, because of course the geek wouldn’t know any other girls, right? All incomprehensibly works out to the team captain’s machinations, with the geek ditching his best friend at the very gates of the party and the captain trying to get in some face time with the girl, who rebuffs him and stays friendly with the geek, who is of course encouraged, which leads him to ask her to a study date, blowing off his bestie again, though she never shows up because she went for a ride with the team captain who still wants her, which is witnessed by his girlfriend the cheerleader, who proceeds to dump him and plans to go to the prom stag because she’s cool like that, but the team captain goes back to the sophomore girl and tells her that he dumped the cheerleader to be with her instead of the other way around, and she’s so happy despite his earlier and current smarminess that she immediately accepts his prom proposal and blows off the concert she planned to attend with the geek, who blew off his best friend again to go to the concert with her. Whew. Are you following this? Do any of these characters (with the possible exception of the empowered cheerleader, which isn’t really a fair appellation since she is, after all, the head cheerleader) sound even remotely relatable or even likeable? Does anyone even care anymore? I sure didn’t. Anywho, at the prom with the lacrosse captain, the sophomore overhears gossip revealing that the cheerleader actually dumped her date instead of the other way around and finally sees through him, leaving the prom to join the geek and his bestie at the concert and treating her geek to a parking lot slow dance in her prom dress because of course the geek forgives her for treating him like a piece of Charmin and everything is perfect now. Do you see why I had a little trouble with this movie?
Things aren’t much better on the main plot front. Nova clashes and finally bonds with the rebel, whom she takes dress shopping with her. After trying on some cute dresses, all of which her new buddy nixes with a shake of the head, she settles on the dress that I was shaking my head at for its drab beigeness, but at which we are supposed to ooh and ahh. Predictably, Nova gets in trouble by hanging out with the bad boy– when she finds out a neighboring high school has the same prom theme she is obsessive enough to say yes when he asks her if she wants to break in to the other school to check out its decorations– which brings her dad down on Bad Boy’s case. After a little private chat between Dad and Rebel Dude, Nova ends up dateless on prom night (horrors! Despite being class president, she’s just not cool enough to pull that off like the head cheerleader). Of course that can’t be. When Nova finds out what Dad was up to and storms out in a huff, he regrets his actions (of course). Rebel Dude has a chat with his mom, who succeeds in psyching him to go to the prom anyway (of course). When her original prom date shows up fresh off the plane from Princeton, Nova rebuffs him because she’s just not into him anymore (of course). Just when Nova is writing off the entire prom as an exercise in misery Rebel Dude appears to ask her to dance and everything is perfect now (wait for it… of COURSE!) The prom is saved! Life is wonderful! Free rainbows and unicorns for everybody!
I know this is a Disney movie and everything is supposed to end happily. That’s part of the patented Velveeta charm of the House of Mouse. However, I had a tough time coming up with sympathy for any of these characters and a nasty little part of me wanted to see them all fail. (Especially after Rebel Dude allowed Nova to pick out that sad, dull dress.) Even the big event, the prom itself, while prettily staged and filmed, felt a little lackluster. The set looked claustrophobic, overpowered by the central fountain, and the outfits, even those of the main characters, were meh. Even the prom episode of Zack and Cody apparently had a better costuming budget. Really, would it have been so hard to go to Macy’s or Deb or even eBay and find some decent prom dresses on the cheap? For all the characters’ blather about prom night being the biggest night in high school and the effort they wasted on their cutesy stunt proposals, nobody dressed for the implied importance of the occasion. I have been to prom. (Two of them. One stag, because Fluffy is cool like that.) I have later helped dress a teenage niece for numerous proms and homecomings. This is not what prom looks like nor how it is garbed. If this film is intended to be a fantasy piece for elementary and middle-school aged girls, it’s missing the mark by not delivering on the promised hype. If it’s intended to be a contemporary piece for teens of the approximate age to go to prom, it fails as well by glossing over the realities of teen life that late director John Hughes nailed so well in classics like Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles. It doesn’t even work as a nostalgic piece for grownups like me who thought it might be fun to watch and relive some prom memories, because the real prom is completely unlike this oddball version, for good or bad. Sorry, Disney; I usually love you, but this one was strictly watered down on the punch. The SeriouslyFluffy Final Grade: F