(by Dustin Putman
A PG-rated movie from Walt Disney Pictures called "Prom" is destined to be highly sanitized (you can forget about spiked punch and post-dance hotel room romps), but who could have guessed it would be so crushingly lackadaisical? A hodgepodge of every trope, convention, and conflict typically found in the teen genre, the film's blander-than-bland script by first-timer Katie Wech and strictly uninspired direction by Joe Nussbaum (2007's "Sydney White") suck the bounce and pep right out of what should be a cause for celebration. Failing to take advantage of most of the customs that go along with prepping for and attending the prom, Wech and Nussbaum miss one opportunity after the next to inject some insight and energy into things. Instead, the tone is constantly mopish and down-tempo, adjectives that extend to the washed-out, unattractive cinematography by Byron Shah and dreary, ballad-heavy soundtrack. As a coming-of-age ritual that symbolizes one's farewell to childhood and an introduction to the next phase of his or her life, one would expect "Prom" to idealistically take advantage of the part-bittersweet, part-magical, part-exciting range of emotions that go along with it. What the viewer gets instead more or less equates to attending a wake. Article continues below
Senior prom is just weeks away at Brookside High, and no one is anticipating it more than class president/preparation committee head Nova Prescott (Aimee Teegarden). A good-hearted, Georgetown-bound friend to everyone, Nova suffers two consecutive blows when all her decorations are destroyed in a fire and her would-be date Brandon (Jonathan Keltz) has to cancel when his Princeton interview is scheduled for the same day. With no one to assist in making new decorations, rebellious Jesse Richter (Thomas McDonell) is assigned to help Nova in lieu of regular detention. They don't get along at first and Nova's protective father (Dean Norris) sees Jesse as not good enough for his daughter—he rides a motorcycle and has long hair, thus making him a bad boy, you see—but it isn't long before they both sense something growing between them.
Surrounding these star-crossed leads is a bevy of supporting players with their own pat subplots. Jordan (Kylie Bunbury) and Tyler (DeVaughn Nixon) are shoo-ins for prom king and queen, but their perfect relationship falters when Jordan discovers Tyler is still interested in his ex-girlfriend, sophomore Simone (Danielle Campbell). Tyler is all wrong for Simone, though; she belongs with same-aged peer Lucas (Nolan Sotillo), his heart going pitter-patter every time they get together for tutoring. Meanwhile, Mei (Yin Chang) is afraid to tell her beloved longtime boyfriend Justin (Jared Kusnitz) that she's going to college in New York rather than accompanying him to Michigan State. If that weren't enough, there's also Rolo (Joe Adler), who claims he already has a date set up with an alleged Greek girlfriend from Canada, and the tall, unlucky-in-love Lloyd (Nicholas Braun), whose attempts to ask girls to prom keep backfiring.
"Prom" is a real downer that forgets it's supposed to be any fun. Heck, the representation of the prom in 1976's "Carrie" had more life to it even after all the pig's blood and telekinetic mass murder business took place. When a filmmaker is tackling a formulaic premise, how hard can it be to emulate entertaining fiuff? Director Joe Nussbaum achieved this very thing with 2004's "Sleepover," an altogether sweeter, wiser, more charming teen comedy, but he's at a total loss here. With the possible exceptions of Aimee Teegarden (2011's "Scream 4"), a fine young actress who has learned a lot from her years on television's brilliant "Friday Night Lights," and adorable newcomer Nolan Sotillo, the cast of unknowns play their roles with the same identical vanilla blandness. Defined solely by single traits and their physical appearance, they prove ill-equipped to display personalities or depth that might have differentiated them from their co-stars. Were it not for looking different, the characters could just about all be performed by the same person with only minimal changes to the dialogue. With no detectable interests or quirks, the lot of them are giant bores who stand at a distance from the audience. Wouldn't you know it, the few people who do, indeed, make an impression—offbeat punk chick Rachel (Aimee-Lynn Chadwick); Lloyd's cute younger sister Tess (Raini Rodriguez); and Betsy (Allie Trimm), a girl Lloyd briefly connects with in the school library—are strictly peripheral who get only a scene or three each.
If "Prom" has anything going for it, it is its overall niceness. There is no slapstick humor, nor are there any overtly mean stock figures, like the bully or the stuck-up cheerleader. Just about everyone treats their classmates with respect, and many of the characters also share loving relationships with their parents—a pleasant change of pace. Otherwise, "Prom" is a bust, an egregiously low-wattage, anticlimactic, visually grubby, disinterested slog-fest that tests one's patience but never amuses or bewitches. Romance? Forget about it. These mostly novice performers would have better chemistry with a wet match. If "Prom" has any wisdom to impart, it comes during Aimee Teegarden's narration over the opening credits as she speaks about the unique qualities of the title rite-of-passage without making it out to be some be-all-end-all occasion. It's downhill from there verging on subterranean. For a work so seemingly light and straightforward, this is an astonishingly inept, curiously depressing experience.