by renata

As aficionados of YA media, my friend Anna and I went to see the movie Prom on Saturday. We have sat through and enjoyed many cheesy YA films, most recently Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior (“racially problematic but entertaining”) and Soul Surfer (“I thought it was called Shark Girl”–which I also want to blog about as soon as I read the book).

So. Prom. As advertised it looked to me kind of like a Breakfast Club/High School Musical fusion, featuring all the classic high school archetypes–misunderstood bad boy, overachiever, stoner, jock, awkward nerd, mean girl, et cetera. By law, every film goer is required to identify with at least one of these archetypes. I claim overachiever (or nerd, if overachiever is unavailable. There is a distinction between overachiever and nerd–overachievers having more social skills and being more generally well-rounded than nerds.) Unfortunately, overachievers are almost always unbearable in film and television. (Ren Stevens, bless her heart, is a notable exception. Also, in books, the overachievers/nerds are nearly always the likeable narrators. That is because books are written by overachievers/nerds.)

As adult consumers of film, nearly all of us root for the bad boys or stoners, because they are the ones who are like, so totally over high school. And we, too, are so totally over high school (one hopes). They are always the characters who have monologues about how high school doesn’t matter, and after graduation you’ll never have to see any of these people again.

Which, okay, fine, but when I think back to myself in high school, it mattered. It was four years of my life, and I lived them, and I stressed the eff out about whether or not a B in pre-calculus would prevent me from ever getting into college. (Spoiler: it didn’t.) So, I watch the overachievers and nerds and hearken back to my teenage years of extreme stress levels.

Here’s what did not matter to me in high school: prom. It always felt, and feels, so unrealistic to me when teens in movies and TV are so obsessed with prom. I mean, I went to prom, and so did my friends. We even helped make the decorations (again: overachievers). But our prom experience was nothing like this movie. Which, granted, was entitled Prom. Still. It was unbearable, and I wish I had not spent money to see it. (At least we went to a matinee, so I’m only out $4.)

So. For starters, Nova, the irritating overachiever and alleged protagonist of the film, has apparently spent most of a semester making ridiculously elaborate decorations for prom. (My friends and I on the prom committee spent like, a morning making ours. And it was fine. No one walked into prom and said, “These decorations are shit. I am leaving.”) She is also the class president and is going to Georgetown on scholarship. She is incredibly stoked about prom because it is “the one night when anything can happen!” Or something. Whatever.

he is mine

This scene takes place when they break into another high school to make fun of their inadequate prom decorations. The lesser high school is STILL way more decorated than my high school prom was.

Anyway, so, the shed the prom decorations are in burns down. Oh noes!!! There are only three weeks until prom! How ever will Irritating Overachiever get ready in time! God, I hate her. Then, as punishment for making fun of prom, the principal assigns Misunderstood Bad Boy to help Irritating Overachiever make new, also ridiculously elaborate prom decorations. What a sadist. Here is a fact about the Misunderstood Bad Boy: he is dreamy and I am totally in love with him. Sigh!!! Anyway, the Irritating Overachiever is a total bitch to him and then like they fall in love or whatever. I’m not really sure, I was too busy planning my wedding to Misunderstood Bad Boy.

Meanwhile, everyone else in the school was obsessing about really elaborate invitations to prom, like building a big set in the school auditorium or writing out an invitation letter-by-letter on the chests of football players. Um, does anyone do that? At my school it was more like, “Uh, so, do you have a date for prom? No? Want to go with me? Okay cool.” And if you were in a relationship with someone it was just assumed that you would go to prom with that person. It wasn’t some kind of wedding proposal scenario where girls would get worked up if their boyfriend hadn’t asked them yet. I mean, really?

Anyway, this movie was terrible and almost none of the characters were likeable. My friend and I decided that if the high school gym were on fire, these are the only characters we would care whether they lived or died:

  • Misunderstood Bad Boy (duhhh)
  • Funny Stoner Kid (* acts like a stereotypical stoner though actual drug use is never alluded to)
  • Cute Couple Who Are About to be Divided By Different Colleges
  • Token Black Girl (redeemed as a likeable character in my book by breaking up with her douchey boyfriend right before prom and going to prom by herself)
  • Awkward Nerd who takes his younger sister to prom and gives good advice to a Sophomore Awkward Nerd
  • Sophomore Awkward Nerd, whose best friend kind of ditches him for an annoying girl

That is it. And since this movie has at least 20 characters, that is a pretty low number of tolerable characters. Of the 20+ high school students whose prom drama is showcased, I only remember the names of three: Nova, the Irritating Overachiever (since a) they say her name so many times and b) it is a dumb name); Jesse, my misunderstood future husband; and Rolo, the Stoner.

Prom failed to make me care about most of its characters and especially to make me care about prom itself. I know I am not its target audience, but I am sure I would have been equally–if not more–annoyed by this film when I actually was in high school. Why are there so few high school movies that in anyway accurately represent a normal high school experience? All I can come up with is Mean Girls, and maybe Juno. Did the people who write teen comedies ever go to high school? Where did they go to high school? Did no screenplay writer ever get asked to prom? Is that what’s happening? Do we need to arrange for a big Hollywood Prom and then everyone can get over it? Because back in 2002 my friends and I spray-painted some sweet cardboard stars and bought some shiny disposable tablecloths, and we would be happy to repeat that arduous task if it could prevent more movies like Prom from being made.

Also, if you can think of any awesome movies or books that deal with prom in a normal way that does not make high school girls look totally crazy, please let me know!

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