Directed by Joe Nussbaum
Runtime: 103 min.
Prom suggests what the kids of the kids from The Breakfast Club would be like: Not so different despite belonging to a new century. But in Disney’s blissful new teen film they are so beautifully photographed—using David Fincher’s sleek digital-video look but giving it genuine pop feeling—that timeworn teenage travails take on new delicacy and delight.
Director Joe Nussbaum and screenwriter Katie Welch glide past histrionics that made John Hughes’ 1985 film seem psychologically overwrought (“NationalLampoon’s Persona,” joked one wag). Following parts of Hughes’ teen melodrama formula, Prom cruises through Brookside High’s prom preparations, floating on Nova Prescott’s (Aimee Teegarden) passionate school spirit—she’s the template for her classmates’ various fleeting, if enormous, dilemmas.
Cinematographer Byron Shah adds a serene aura to this familiar material. There’s no gaudy red in the film’s chromatic scale, just calm blues, grays and neutrals lighted to mould the teens’ features; all of them—black, white, Hispanic, Asian—seen in the same emotional rainbow. A narrator says: “High school—it happens to everyone. After four years, it has a way of dividing us.” But Prom engagingly shows high school as a basic, prophetic equalizer of social types— achievers, slackers, nerds, jocks, etc.
Prom advances that sociological observation aesthetically. Shah accentuates the positive aspects of each teen’s personal dilemma, not using musical numbers to resolve issues (that would lower it to Footloose), but specifying facial structure and eye intensity during each simply dramatized crisis. This fulfills the recent live-action, teen-targeted genius responsible for Disney’s wonderfully utopian High School Musical (though not the diminishing returns of its venal sequels). Disney’s openhearted, multicultural teen agenda confounds Hollywood cynicism as in TV’s noxious series Glee (not really popular, just heavily hyped).
The cute-to-beautiful cast of Prom idealizes adolescence (minus the acne and schoolroom chaos), yet finds exact expression of teen heartache: in the awkward loyalties of Cory and Lucas (Nolan Sotillo, Cameron Monaghan); the gorgeous triangle of Simone, Tyler and Jordan (Danielle Campbell, DeVaughn Nixon, Tyler Bunbury) that leads each to self-reliance; and the sensitive pairing of bad boy Jesse (Thomas McDonnell) with Nova, leading to her existential query, “Why can’t I have that? What did I do wrong?” A scene featuring high schoolers typically complaining about reading Ethan Frome doesn’t congratulate adolescence but gives context to Prom’s vision of adolescence; it responds to Ethan Frome’s dread truths by reflecting adolescent innocence. Although Prom occurs within a dreamy light, it isn’t dishonest like a Fincher film and less congratulatory than Hughes. It’s got the best teen movie fashion montage ever (including the boy’s P.O.V.). An earlier montage uses the film’s title not as a false promise of sexual conformity, but as a tentative proposition. That’s why Prom looks and feels blissful.