Aimee Teegarden as Nova Prescott
Thomas McDonell as Jesse Richter
DeVaughn Nixon as Tyler Barso
Danielle Campbell as Simone Daniels
Yin Chang as Mei Kwan
Jared Kusnitz as Justin Wexler
Nolan Sotillo as Lucas Arnaz
Cameron Monaghan as Corey Doyle
Kylie Bunbury as Jordan Lundley
Joe Adler as Rolo
Janelle Ortiz as Ali Gomez
Jonathan Keltz as Brandon Roberts
Nicholas Braun as Lloyd Taylor
Raini Rodriguez as Tess Torres
Christine Elise as Sandra Richter
It’s that time of the year again. Spring is in the air, summer is around the corner, school is almost done with. That can only mean one thing, it’s time for one of Disney’s innocuous tween-oriented trifles celebrating the fact. Usually they’re left to television, but this year’s version has been given some more money and a better look and is being rolled out as something bigger and more meaningful. It’s time for “Prom.”
Director Joe Nussbaum (“Sidney White”) and first time feature screenwriter Katie Wech have opted for an ensemble piece, grabbing different pieces of the lives of various students affected by the oncoming celebrations. It’s like the “Nashville” of Disney teen movies, or it would be if it weren’t hopelessly insipid.
Whether through the un-creative process or by corporate fiat from above, Nussbaum and Wech have dredged up every high school television cliché they can, wiped them clean of any sort of conflict or drama, and stuck them together into their pre-ordained, brand-focused slots.
There’s Nova (Aimee Teegarden), the perfectionist in charge of putting prom together who is left with only three weeks to create the perfect event when a fire destroys all of her previous hard work. As ‘help’ for her and punishment for him, she’s paired off with long-haired, motorcycle riding bad boy Jess (Thomas McDonell) to try and accomplish the impossible. There’s Nova’s best friend Mei (Yin Chang) who doesn’t know how to tell her long time boyfriend she’s moving away for college. There’s young lacrosse player Lucas (Nolan Sotillo), who has his eye set on lab partner Simone (Danielle Campbell), who is unfortunately also the apple of the popular lacrosse captain’s (DeVaughn Nixon) eye.
And on and on and on. Almost all of these various threads play out exactly how you think they will with not only little variation, but little attempt at variation. It’s almost as pure an example of paint by numbers filmmaking as you can get. Almost.
The most disheartening thing about “Prom” is that there are glimmers of the film wanting to be better than it is. There are no overt, unbelievable bad guys (though there are some good guys) who exist just to move the plot along. Everyone does what they do for thoroughly understandable reasons that get just enough exploration to be understandable. Even Tyler the lacrosse captain who spends quite a bit of time manipulating people so that he can date two girls at the same time, comes off as likeable, just selfish. Which is par for the course for that age.
It’s far better looking than you usually get as well, with the typical high key lighting replaced with genuinely nuanced photography from Byron Shah.
Unfortunately, as much as they may try, however, the filmmakers can’t get beyond making easy, boring choices. The dialogue is at best stilted and despite “Prom” ostensibly being a comedy, the script lives on some planet on the far side of the galaxy from funny. It’s still most evident in the characters which end up being an assortment of very, very old stereotypes. Despite attempting to develop the leads and their interrelationships, much of the actual character choices follow thoroughly trodden ground.
It’s even more obvious in the supporting characters, who don’t have the benefit of development to overcome the clichés they exist in. People like Rolo (Joe Adler) who loves, surprise, Rolo. Rolo’s apparently filled with marijuana, although the film has been cleaned so thoroughly of anything that might constitute the slightest edge, that sort of thing is left entirely to your imagination.
Which is pretty much “Prom” in a nutshell. It’s harmless. It’s also hopeless and ultimately, pointless.