My parents, who I do not see often enough, are in town for a few days before they leave for an extended vacation in China. No matter how old I get, when my parents are in town, there is a part of me that immediately remembers how I felt during all the various stages I went through growing up. Because my parents were there, witnesses to my various triumphs and failures, my formative screw-ups and my moments of grace, I am myself most completely when I’m around them. I hope that’s how it is for my sons, too, when they grow up and look back. I want them to feel like I was excited to watch them grow and become independent people, because I am. I look forward to seeing them each all of the various milestones I passed on my own journey.
One of those formative experiences for me was my senior prom.
It was, to put it bluntly, a humiliating and surreal disappointment that I didn’t even fully understand was a disappointment until after the fact.
It was a nightmare. It was “Carrie”-level bad.
I hated my senior prom. Even so, I remember the build-up to it, the anticipation, the social buzz of the thing. And when I go to see a Walt Disney brand movie called “Prom,” I know full well I’m not going to get the Larry Clark version of the thing, which my prom night movie would be, but the fluffy, fun, “Oh, isn’t this all just so darn romantic?” version. For tweens. And it totally is that.
Sadly, though, I think it’s a strangely inert version of one of those, and it was a genuine shock to me in the theater the other night when I saw the credit “Directed by Joe Nussbaum.” That’s “George Lucas In Love” Joe Nussbaum. Talk out a guy who kicked his career off with a preposterous amount of heat and who has done absolutely nothing with it. “Sleepover”? A direct-to-video “American Pie” sequel? That horrifying Amanda Bynes movie “Sydney White”? The sad thing is, there are signs of life in some of his work in “Prom,” but he’s saddled with this awful script by Katie Wech that just hits every perfunctory beat along with the way, offering flat set-ups and obvious pay-offs, and the end result isn’t what I would call an awful film, but it’s hard to find anything in particular to praise, either.
There are four or five storylines about prom that play out over the course of the film, but the main one deals with Coach’s Daughter and 1987 Johnny Depp, total opposites forced to work together to prepare all the decorations for the senior prom in only three weeks, a task which causes them both to realize that they are in love and perfect for one another. And to give due credit, Coach’s Daughter does her best to play a type-A personality and 1987 Johnny Depp has a certain laconic charm, and I’m sure if I were a 13 year old girl, I’d buy into their love story with a certain degree of fervor. But if you’ve seen any teen movie ever in the history of teen movies, this is going to end up feeling very, very familiar, and it almost feels like a computer program wrote this thing after having a few dozen other teen movie script fed into it. There’s a mechanical quality to the way things happen, and there’s not a genuine or earned moment in the whole thing.
In addition to Aimee Teegarden and Thomas McDonell, the rest of the young cast works to varying degrees, with Nolan Sotillo representing the worst of what the film has to offer with his work as the bland-faced and boring Lucas, who has one of the most agonizing declarations of puppy love in a film I can remember seeing, especially considering he’s making that declaration to the dead-eyed Danielle Campbell, who appears to have been grown in the same lab where Disney Channel generated such earlier models as Demi Lovato and Miranda Cosgrove, only without the personality chip installed. A few of the kids, like Nicholas Braun and Yin Chang, do manage to offer up solid performances in spite of the material, but there’s no one here to I think manages to genuinely transcend and make any of this feel urgent or genuine.
It’s a shame. More than anything, the hollow fantasy of prom that this movie is selling is aimed squarely at kids who are still several years away from having a prom of their own, and it seems like innocuous fantasy fare. If you want harmless, silly fluff, it’s almost sort of semi kind-of moderately acceptable, but if you expect anything more from the film, you’ll leave as disappointed as I did after my actual senior prom.
“Prom” opens in theaters everywhere tomorrow.