May 4, 2011

PROM: Bland-Land

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Not Even For Free; No Pig’s Blood At This Shindig.
The relationships we have with the stars we watch are no less real for being imaginary, and that’s particularly true for television stars, whom we often watch inhabit and grow within the same character over a period of years.  So fans of the great TV series “Friday Night Lights” must be forgiven some additional groans at the sight of Aimee Teegarden, for 5 years part of perhaps the most believably rendered family in the history of American television, playing a simple, flat, uninteresting high school girl in the new movie PROM.  But Prom needn’t be compared to a crowning jewel of TV to come out behind:  it’s also no Some Kind of Wonderful, no Pretty In Pink, no Carrie, no “Glee,” no “90210”–hell, it makes 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s All That look like Bunuel’s Los Olvidados and Van Sant’s Elephant combined.  
Prom is, even by Hollywood standards, an extremely calculated piece of business.  It was the first movie greenlit by the new administration at Disney, and it means to set the tone for a chunk of their commerce.  Not, obviously, the giant pieces that will be taken up by new Pirates of the Caribbean and Muppets movies, but off-season entertainment catering to young girls.  Vehemently drained of profanity, drinking, drugs and sex (despite the presence of one character who appears to be perpetually stoned for no apparent reason), it seems to take place at a Stepford school, where the students might not pass the Replicant tests administered in Blade Runner
Prom is, as you’d expect, set in the period just before the big dance, and features several plots that try to outdo each other in predictability.  Our main heroine Nova (Teegarden) is an overachiever forced to work on party decorations with the local “bad boy” Jesse (Thomas McDonell), who is–no!–not really bad at all.  Meanwhile, designated scuzzball Tyler (DeVaughn Nixon) steps out on his loyal girlfriend with a sophomore, who is thereby blinded to the true love of a contemporary.  And you know the one about the guy who claims to have a hot Canadian girlfriend, except absolutely no one believes she’ll show up at the dance?  Guess what happens!  And the sadsack (Nicholas Braun) who has to attend the prom alone–think he might find a soulmate there?  If there was just a single instant of believability or surprise or even humor in any of this, it might excuse a lot, but under Joe Nussbaum’s direction, the performers are manacled to the script credited to Katie Wech, and no stray moments are allowed to interfere with the plan.  (Adults cashing paychecks include Jere Burns, Dean Norris and Amy Pietz.)

Prom is inoffensive, for parents who value that virtue above all else, but a steady diet of its pablum could lead children who watch it to become perpetually dull.  And one hopes that Julie Taylor–um, I mean Aimee Teegarden–will find some projects that actually require use of her talent.
(PROM – Disney – 103 minutes – PG – Director:  Mike Nussbaum – Script:  Katie Wcch – Cast:  Aimee Teegarden, Thomas McDonell, DeVaughn Nixon, Danielle Campbell, Yin Chang, Jared Kusnitz, Nicholas Braun – Wide Release)

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."