This one perfect moment." "That soul-crushing mistress." "Our forever night." These and other understated definitions are obsessively applied to a certain dreaded/anticipated ritual throughout Prom, a timely pop product set in a suburban high school during the last weeks before summer break and destined for the immortality of Vitamin C's "Graduation (Friends Forever)."
Prom is a carousel of reassuringly familiar plot lines, kept smoothly revolving. The large ensemble cast of unknowns includes a smattering of underclassmen, parents, and ten seniors with prominent speaking parts. At the center is Nova Prescott (Aimee Teegarden), a straight-arrow extracurricular collector — Best All-Around Overachiever, class president, head of the prom decorating committee — who needs only to be duly escorted on the big night by her anti-romantic male counterpart in the high school hierarchy in order to matriculate, on paper, as flawless.
The wrinkle comes in Jesse Richter (Thomas McDonell), a longhair detention-hall stud who's told he won't be allowed to graduate unless he reports for putative after-school decoration duty, working one on one with Nova. What Nova least expects to happen in this intimate proximity is exactly what an audience knows is going to happen as soon as Jesse gets her on that motorcycle.
Lady meets Tramp, and more material divorced from any recognizable social reality piles into Prom, as into an overloaded rental limo. Jesse's surliness is excused and ennobled by a troubled home life and a too-cute kid brother. Star-crossed could-be couples misunderstand and miss their connection, only so one of them can show up, strikingly lit, at the last, heart-fluttering, almost-too-late moment (I teared up), while inert subplots include one half of a long-term relationship delaying telling the other that their plans to go to school together won't come through.
At best, the Nova-Jesse romance is savvy to its own clichés; there's a scene in which Nova is crestfallen to learn that a neighboring school has chosen the same prom theme, so she and Jesse break into the competitor's gym to compare the décor — it gets at the teenaged anxiety to be unique while still fitting in. Dewy with expectation and lip gloss, Teegarden ingénues her way through, selling such perennials as the "trying on clothes" montage opposite McDonell, a hottie automaton created when someone typed "Young Johnny Depp type" into a supercomputer deep beneath Burbank.
The other bright young things are, in their assigned yearbook archetypes, a New Faces of 2011 revue. Playing the player who gets played is DeVaughn Nixon, with an easy-to-dislike Tiki Barber grin. Joe Adler is a character nicknamed "Rolo" who eats a lot of Hershey-brand Rolos candy, which must be some kind of new high/low in product placement. (His squint may be gently implied stonerdom; otherwise, this is a no heavy-petting, lemonade-and-brownies version of high school.) Nicholas Braun pulls off a series of comic cutaways in which he works his way through the school directory looking for a date, his lanky Lloyd trying to break out of four years of too-tall-guy's shyness. There's even room in this democratic cross section for two sophomore rock geeks — Nolan Sotillo and Cameron Monaghan — obsessed with a band called Stick Hippo, who for all I know might be responsible for the neutered "rock" cues between scenes.
The movie is titled Prom and is distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. Therefore: The prophecy of Nova's opening voice-over — "One night has a way of bringing everyone together" — is fulfilled by the last reel, sincere hearts are rewarded, bad boys are harnessed into cummerbunds, and traditions are called into question and then quickly validated. The self-reinforcing system of Prom's universe is so perfectly worked out in advance that all the movie needs to do is fulfill its requirements. It deserves nothing more or less than a perfect-attendance award.