Many films claim reverence for the work of John Hughes, insisting their high school scripts match the idiosyncratic tone and wit of the late filmmaker. “Prom” is an unassuming dramedy that also genuflects before the “Breakfast Club” architect, only this reserved production actually manages to replicate a minor amount of Hughesian DNA. Though at times unforgivably plodding, this gentle teen picture keeps matters surprisingly human, evading abrasive Disney Channel trappings to play more sensitively, thus encouraging a heartier emotional investment.
It’s prom season at a bustling high school, with all the students buzzing about dates and plans for the big party. Overachiever Nova (Aimee Teegarden) is head of the prom committee, horrified to find props for the dance have been destroyed by fire, forcing her to rebuild with reluctant help from rebellious Justin (Thomas McDonell, who looks more like a teacher than a student). Nerdy Lucas (Nolan Sotillo) is smitten with affable Simone (Danielle Campbell), only to find his true love making a play for school jock and known lothario, Tyler (DeVaughn Nixon). And unlucky Lloyd (Nicholas Braun) is having trouble securing a prom date, madly searching for a partner as the clock ticks down to party time.
A benevolent march into adolescent heartache, “Prom” is a simplistic concept that corrals a horde of teenagers into a single location, with director Joe Nussbaum (“Sleepover”) overseeing a multitude of subplots that cover the basics of longing, rejection, and anxiety. The screenplay by Katie Wech doesn’t introduce anything in the way of originality, but what she does excel at is patience, taking significant time to discover the souls of these characters, removing them from their noxious plastic wrappings to treats these timid teens with some respect. “Prom” is far from perfect, but it nails a delicate ambiance of fragile feelings crunching under a brutal period of high school judgment and social restructuring.
Worries are rooted in prom particulars (e.g. dresses, limos, and dates), yet the screenplay is wise to reach out beyond the party to examine fear of the future, with many of these characters finally saying goodbye to high school and the comfort of their loved ones. Wech and Nussbaum have a nasty habit of grinding interesting conflicts into melodramatic mush (desperate to keep younger viewers engaged), but honest feeling are accounted for, tastefully expressed by a promising cast of newcomers. Where other high school movies lunge for hacky jokes and trite clique warfare, “Prom” values its diverse community, hoping to speak directly to the target demographic by reflecting real world doubts, however self-absorbed they may be. The picture seems to understand teenage wiring, which is a major accomplishment, nicely keeping in step with the old Hughes way of business.
“Prom” is too long at 100 minutes, submitting a few redundant conflicts that torch pace and sympathy, with parental concerns much too mechanical to register as anything more than pure cliché. Wech can’t help herself at times, pouring on the despair to make her climatic points of redemption. Still, a few dramatic wrong turns and tortoise pace can’t halt the sincerity of the picture, a creative path that helps “Prom” to a level of amiability few teen movies achieve.