Let me begin by saying I am not the target audience of Prom, the newest tweensploitation film from Disney about high school's "most seminal event." I'm not an 8-year-old girl, and the most I remember about my prom is that my date wore a tuxedo T-shirt instead of the real deal. Nevertheless, the movie made an impression on me and not one I share with the 40 young girls who skipped out of the theater at a recent preview screening, movie posters in tow.
Prom tells the story of a dozen or so high-schoolers in the weeks leading up to the big school dance. Nova (Aimee Teegarden) is the overachieving chair of the prom committee, forced to work side by side with Jesse, the school rebel who is being punished for some combination of fighting, motorcycling, and brooding. Lloyd is the hapless loser who can't find a date. Jordan and Tyler are the senior power couple on the brink of a break-up, and Cory and Lucas are the fumbling underclassmen, drooling over the toothsome dream girl Simone. There are more characters too boring to note here; just think of some other teen movie stock characters and you have the rest of the cast.
What offends me isn't so much the heartbreakingly derivative plot, or the cutesy script, or even the one-dimensional characters (isn't everyone a little one-dimensional in high school?). The most troubling aspect of the film is how it tightens the vice grip Disney has on tween and teen girls and exemplifies all the wrong messages the entertainment empire is sending these days.
The movie begins with a montage of boys asking girls to prom (never the other way around) like a series of elaborate teenage marriage proposals: sidewalk chalking, chest painting, window signs, and cheerleader formations. Extravagant decorations — including a fountain — prove that there are no limits to the money and time worth spending on prom. Every other scene reminds us that this is the most important night of the year, where nothing else matters except having everyone together for "one perfect moment."
Disney drives this culture of vapid celebration, the idea that young adulthood is special and pretty and it deserves its own party. Teenage melodrama is at its height, but without pushing any boundaries or addressing real issues like bullying, cliques, drugs, sexuality, and college. High school relationships are elevated to mini-marriage status, with sincere talk of being together forever and over-the-top romance.
One character explains the Disney premise perfectly: "Prom is supposed to be a forever night, and we're supposed to be a forever couple."
No it isn't. No you're not.
Opening Friday, April 29th