It's safe. It's sanitized. It's boring. I'm sure the parents will approve.


6 June 2011

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Plot summary

A group of teenagers get ready for their high school prom.

Back in the days of yore, when I was a pre-teen girl, I was supposed to be reading magazines like Mizz – wholesome, girlish publications about pastel-coloured hair clips and blue-eyed boyband members. In reality, my friends and I were reading Just17, which sometimes included raunchy advice about gauging your bra size and how to flirt with your extremely hypothetical date. Meanwhile, actual 17 year old girls were reading Cosmopolitan‘s sex technique tips, and putting them into practice. (Just who was actually reading Mizz, then? I have no idea.) My point is simply this: no tweenage girl wants to watch a film about being a tweenage girl. They know that sex will be next up on the life agenda, and they want to learn more about its mysteries from their elders. Hence the post-pubescent fascination with American Pie, a sex comedy about 18 year olds. The characters were four years older than I was when I first saw it, but that was why it made for essential viewing.

So what has Prom got to do with all this? More than is ideal, unfortunately. It’s the American high school prom experience sans hormones, sans wit and sans sex. It’s Mizz magazine for pre-teens, and if the pre-teens have any sense (and I hear they are very precocious these days) they’ll stay well away. Perhaps 8 year olds may find something to enjoy in Prom‘s bubblegum histrionics, but what healthy 8 year old cares about dating anyway?

Prom follows the trials and tribulations of Nova (Aimee Teegarden, Scream 4), the high school’s perfectionist prom organizer who just can’t get a date. Her fellow graduating class make up this plot deficit by variously asking each other out on dates, psyching themselves up to do so, and swapping partners as their social standing rises or falls. The ensemble cast that go through these motions are all scrubbed and shined to the point where it’s almost hard to look at them – they remain unblemished and perfectly groomed, like a fleet of teenaged cyborgs fresh from a Hannah Montana casting call. Nova, meanwhile, encounters a prom-prep disaster when her props go up in flames just a couple of weeks before The Big Day. The headmaster orders the school’s resident rebel Jesse (Tom McDonell, a pleasing doppelgänger for the young Johnny Depp) to atone for his unimpressive sins (riding a scooter, wearing non-pastel shades) by aiding Nova in rebuilding the decorations.

Antipathy soon blossoms into attraction, and our perky blonde goody-goody ends up with a brunette boy who wears black and looks sexy when he sulks. They, and all the other contributing teen cyborgs have lovely hair and skin and a strong sense of personal hygiene, which is is a clue to why they are so sexless. They have no hormones and thus, no acne and no clue. If I was a tween, I would be bemused about why a date for prom is so bloody important – after all, this film implies the reward is simply standing awkwardly opposite your chosen one and shuffling in time to bad music. Of course, every other teen film has the sense to acknowledge the all-powerful motivator, sex. Even previous tame offerings, such as She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You, make it into a key plot point, and American Pie‘s only problem with realism was the idea that most 18 year olds wouldn’t have done it already. In Prom, they don’t even know that it exists. It’s like some deeply Christian abstinence commercial – “Look, holding hands is so exhilarating!”

Okay, so this is Disney. But at least the equally chaste High School Musical had the decency to put in some song-and-dance numbers to stave off mental asphyxiation. Prom is just a series of character-free, anodyne people talking to each other indirectly about their social status. It’s safe. It’s sanitized. It’s boring. I’m sure the parents will approve.