Less engrossing than a Clearasil commercial and more synthetic than a Rebecca Black video, “Prom” is Disney’s attempt to launch a new generation of tween idols with a wholesome confection about a high school dance. But the buoyant energy of “High School Musical”-style song and dance numbers is sorely missed and some sweet moments are not enough to make up for a thin storyline featuring too many inexperienced young performers. Anyone over the age of 12 will want to sit out this dance.
It begins three weeks before prom in a suburban high school. The girls are excited about being asked. The boys are terrified about asking them. Apparently, even the ask itself is now a montage-worthy event, with high expectations for drama and creativity from the guys. One romantic invitation features candles in the shed filled with party decorations, igniting a fire that destroys all of the “Starry Night” decorations.This is devastating for Nova (Aimee Teegarden), class president and all-around achiever who is determined that the prom will be “a perfect moment.” Jesse (Thomas McDonell), the school rebel (he has long hair, a motorcycle, and a bad attitude), points out that at the very worst, “the boys and girls of the school have been robbed of the opportunity to stand around and drink punch. Lower the flags to half mast.” The principal orders him to work with Nova to make new decorations, and inevitably, a less combustible set of sparks will fly.
The prom creates stress and drama for other seniors as well. Two popular couples struggle with complications that go beyond the selection of limo and cummerbund. The top candidates for prom queen and king are Jordan (Kylie Bunbury) and her boyfriend Tyler (DeVaughn Nixon), the lacrosse team captain and a playah off the field as well. Mei (Yin Chang) does not know how to tell her devoted boyfriend since middle school that she wants to go to Parsons in New York to study design instead of to the University of Michigan with him. The prom also gives shy, gawky Lloyd (Nicolas Braun) his last chance to ask a girl – any girl — out, with encouragement from his stepsister, Tess (a warm and engaging Raini Rodriguez). And a pretty sophomore (Danielle Campbell) must choose between her awkward, music-mad lab partner and a smoother guy who may not be trustworthy. And they squeeze in two characters from a Disney television series as underclassmen for cross-promotion and the already-announced sequel.
But never fear! The over-packed plot still leaves time for the inevitable trying-on-dresses montage, a parent who has to learn to trust his daughter’s judgment, and a last-minute arrival of a back-lit dream date.
Parents will be relieved that everything stays reassuringly PG. A character who would be a stoner in a PG-13 high school movie merely chomps on the candies that give him his nickname and talks about the girl he is bringing to the prom in a manner that sounds vaguely, well, vague. And parents will appreciate the portrayal of supportive friends and moms and some nice lessons about self-respect, loyalty, and moving beyond shallow fantasies of “the perfect moment.” But with a dozen main characters it feels more like a series of Disney Channel sketches than stories. Its effort to underplay the fantasy of the “perfect moment” prom is lost in its own focus on one magical evening. A complaint from one girl about being required to read Ethan Frome is the only suggestion in the film that school is for any purpose other than college applications and finding prom dates. Like a discount prom corsage, it looks pretty and wilts fast.
Parents should know that this film has some brief schoolyard language (“butt breath”) and a brief fight. Characters cut school and break into another school. A character carelessly starts a fire (offscreen). There are references to parental abandonment and betrayal of trust.
Family discussion:Ask family members about their prom stories. What makes a “perfect moment?” Why didn’t Jesse want anyone to know the truth about him?
If you like this, try: “My Bodyguard,” “High School Musical,” and “Drive Me Crazy”