Review: ‘Prom’

Dude, just ask her. Disney
Dude, just ask her. Disney

1. "Prom" is the Disney version of what high school is like, and if that sounds like it's a bad thing, I don't mean it that way. Most people -- by that, I mean "adults" -- I know subscribe to the petri-dish-for-a-rotting-society metaphor of high school, the idea that secondary education is just as venal and back-stabbing and mortifying as adult life is, just housed all in one building. That may be true, but I don't remember high school that way at all. I remember high school as a place where a bunch of silly but well-meaning kids strived for freedom without realizing they were the most free they'd ever be in their lives. I remember everything being of life-and-death import when, of course, little of this ultimately would matter at all. I remember, mostly, the final days of high school, when everyone realized, almost at once, that everyone and everything you'd known your entire life was about to vanish and not being able to compute that fact at all. At my core: I remember, at the end, people being nice. I'm sure there were people who weren't. I'm sure there were kids torturing animals in their backyard. But it don't remember that. I remember thinking the world was open and sad and scary and great, and we were all leaving it together, and entering into something else. It wasn't like that. It couldn't have been. But good luck convincing me otherwise.

2. That's to say: As I always respond to friends of mine who castigate me for not listening to The Smiths, "sorry, I didn't hate high school. I know I was supposed to, but I just didn't." Again, selective memory, I'm sure I was miserable then plenty. But I recollect the good parts. "Prom" is the type of movie that will make you remember the good parts. Everyone in this movie means well, is sincere, wants to be happy, thinks that humanity is inherently decent. This is an idealized high school, obviously; no one at Disney High is pregnant, or even appears to think about sex, and the "dilemmas" facing the characters were more scandalous and vexing at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance in "Back to the Future." But the movie cares about these kids, and gives them the conviction of their own silly obsessions with a dance and who you're going with and what are we doing with our lives? and does he like me I think he likes me I hope I hope I hope. And everyone's so nice! We need more nice movies.

3. I won't insult your intelligence and call the film's plotting "Altman-esque," so let's just say that it pans back and forth between a large cast of characters who all end up in the same place at the end of the film. (Prom is to this movie what the earthquake is to "Short Cuts," or the outdoor concert is to "Nashville," or ... you know, I'll just stop.) All the stock high school characters are there. The Jock. (A black lacrosse player, a nice touch.) The Stoner. (It's Disney, so he's high on candy.) The Popular Girl. The Nerd. The Indie Rock Pixie Girl. The movie dances around with a refreshing light touch; these feel like real kids, who talk the way real teenagers talk, whether they're on Facebook or discussing their favorite bands or just pretending to study. There's nothing raw or threatening about these kids, but that is part of their charm: They're confused but hopeful, aware of the cliche they are but still trying to break out of it. Which is itself sorta like high school.

4. My favorite character in the movie is Lloyd, the "nerd" who is so obviously based on Lloyd Dobler in "Say Anything" that they went ahead and just named him that. But I also enjoyed Stoner Rolo -- who has a fun turn on the old "I have a girlfriend from out of town, you've just never met her" joke -- and Corey, a 15-year-old ginger-kid rock enthusiast who makes the solid argument that Jack White is the biggest rock god of the last 25 because he led three different seminal bands at once. (This is a good point.) There's a boring love story at the center, with a Disney Channel zombie-eyed Type A Good Student and a motorcycle rebel. It's the dullest part of the film, but it's about prom, you know? The happy couple is always the most boring part of prom.

5. "Prom" has a generosity of spirit that I couldn't help but give myself up to; it even takes the time to give parents well-rounded roles, played by Christine Elise and "Breaking Bad"'s Dean Norris, in a performance that owes more than a little to John Mahoney's in "Say Anything." This is a film that has a warm heart and puts a lot more thought and care into its characters that was probably necessary. It's a little square, and a little cheesy, but it knows it, and even has a little fun with it. When I was in high school, I would have pretended like this movie was beneath me, that it's just about stupid prom. That's sort of what high school is about too. But I secretly would have loved it.

Grade: B