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Movie Review

I went to my first prom my sophomore year—recruited as something between a low-rent trophy date and comic relief.

I was pretty good friends with the girl, and she only asked me because she didn't want to go alone and knew I was a reasonably innocuous escort. She drove (naturally), told me what to buy, what to wear and what restaurant we were going to eat at. I'm amazed she didn't tell me what to order there, and in a way I wish she had. The menu was written in French, and I wound up ordering a salad because it was the only thing I could pronounce.

She did allow me to pay the bill.

Prom is weird like that. For some teens it's a night of unrivaled romance and fun—a fitting finale to four years (give or take) of high school. For others it can be a night of posturing and preening and even near-political intrigue. It can be full of green-eyed envy (The limo cost how much?) or red-faced embarrassment (Waddya mean my cummerbund's on backwards?). Sometimes it can even be sheer horror.

Unless, of course, you're in a Disney film.

Nova Prescott, the story's requisite high-achieving, do-everything class president, has a particularly Disney-like take on prom. For her it's less a formal dance and more the high school equivalent of Utopia, where everyone sets aside their cliques and issues, throws on fancy formalwear and gathers for one final harmonious moment together—where the student body is, for four short hours, united as one. For Nova, world peace might be in reach if only various presidents and prime ministers would give each other corsages and dance to Katy Perry tunes in the United Nations' cafeteria. And, as head of the prom committee, she's determined to make the night the best ever—for herself and everyone else.

But that's before all her elaborate prom decorations are destroyed in a terrible shed fire. And before her would-be beau suggests the two of them "carpool" to the dance together—only to back out at the last minute. And before the school principal decides to create a new prom decor committee—one consisting of her and a brooding, motorcycle-riding guy named Jesse, the antithesis of everything Nova likes and respects or even tolerates.

Nova's not the only one having trouble. Goofy sophomore Lucas finds his attention torn between his best friend, Corey, and a pretty sophomore named Simone. Simone likes Lucas OK, but she's being wooed by Tyler "Mr. Popularity" Barso. And he, in turn, can't seem to break it off with Jordan. (It'd be awkward, since the two of them are just bound to be voted prom's king and queen.) And then there's Mei, who must tell her boyfriend that they're not going to be going to college together after all, and—

Hey, that sounds just like all the prom-time drama I remember circling around my high school back in the day—minus the bullies and gangs and underage drinking and, oh, classes and such. Maybe this prom will turn out a lot like most other proms in the world. Maybe even worse. It might be, as the film's lovelorn Lloyd predicts, a lot like the Olympics: "Three people have a good time and the rest of us have to live with shattered dreams."

Maybe this isn't a fairy tale, after all. Maybe Disney's fallen for something a bit more realistic.

Yeah, sure. Just like they tore down Cinderella's castle and replaced it with a cookie-cutter high-rise.

Positive Elements

Nova is, in my parents' lingo, a "good egg." She's a relentlessly chipper dynamo, headed for Georgetown University once she's done with prom. She's worked hard for everything she's achieved and been unfailingly nice through it all. Even Jesse—a kid who treats prom with the same affection he would a rabid mongoose—is impressed with Nova's dedication. "It's nice to be around someone who believes in something so much," he says.

Jesse is also a good egg—albeit one hidden in a black leather shell. Turns out, his father deserted his fam, leaving Jesse to care for his mother and little bro. We can't excuse him for cutting class (to pick up his little brother from school) or fight (to protect his mom from disrespectful miscreants), but perhaps we can ask you to see such circumstances as slight mitigation. And while his methods are rough, there's no question that he's a loyal, caring and protective son. When he considers putting on his father's old tux, his mother tells him that "even if it fits, you're still a bigger man."

No surprise that Jesse and Nova eventually fall for each other—which scares the stuffing out of Nova's protective pop. He doesn't have faith in Jesse at all, at least in the short term. (He sees too much of himself in the boy.) And he does his best to squelch their fledgling relationship—a mistake, the movie tells us. But the film also makes it clear that Nova's dad isn't a mean guy. He loves his daughter deeply, and he just thought Jesse might drag his pride and joy down. For her part, when Nova learns of her father's manipulations, she responds with heartfelt, but respectful, sorrow and anger.

Lots of other little lessons are sprinkled throughout this high school melodrama: A popular girl breaks up with her two-timing boyfriend, goes to prom alone and has a wonderful evening (a good message of self-reliance). Another girl refuses to tolerate lies from her date. Couples learn what it means to trust. Singles learn that it's OK to have fun without getting paired off. Full Disney disclosure: One or two do find potential matches along the way. But Prom is not just about finding love. It's also about moving past heartache when things go awry. It's about first dances and second chances, a film that hints at both the joys of being young and the importance of growing up.

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

No one has sex in Prom. No one is pressured to have sex. No one even mentions the word. Prom is to American Pie what Taylor Swift is to Lady Gaga.

Not that Prom is puritanical, mind you. Couples kiss—sometimes frequently. One couple is so joined at the hip—and lip—that they've become known as an amalgamation of their first names. Girls wear short shorts and typical 2011 prom dresses. Jordan begins to suspect Tyler's dating someone else too when she discovers a strange earring in his car. A girl walks around in front of her boyfriend wearing only her (not racy) undergarments. Jesse jokingly flirts with a school official, telling her that since he's turned 18, it's OK for them to run away together.

Violent Content

Jesse gets into a fight with three guys who are giving his mother a hard time. Mom ends up breaking it up, wiping blood from Jesse's face. I should note that everyone knows that Jesse shouldn't fight. Nova earlier prevented him from brawling with those same three guys. And Jesse himself suggests it's one of the bad traits he got from his father.

We see a shed burn down. There's a stray reference to "creepy serial killer" letters.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear a "h‑‑‑" once and a half-dozen misuses of God's name.

Drug and Alcohol Content

None—though we do hear about a girl who goes out "clubbing." Simone disses a song she hears at a barbecue by saying its lyrics consist of just eight words—two of them being "par-tay."

Other Negative Elements

Jesse is characterized by Nova's father as "a walking misdemeanor." He's called into the principal's office for cutting class (previously he'd gone in for fighting) and speaks to the principal disrespectfully. He rides his motorcycle on school grounds (another no-no) and, at first, mocks Nova.

Nova's father thinks Jesse's a bad influence on his little girl, and there's truth to that. Before the lights go out, Jesse and Nova sort-of-kind-of break into a rival school, run away from a security guard and cut class.

Characters lie to and ignore one another. A boy interrupts detention to ask his girlfriend to prom. Another teen uses the girl's restroom.


Disney has built its empire, in part, by selling dreams to little girls. From Snow White to Selena Gomez, the Mouse House has been telling its most ardent constituents that it's good to be the princess (however she's defined) and that there's nothing wrong with believing in a little magic.

Prom is, in a way, a continuation of Disney's princess factory. While there are no obvious break-out star here, the film (as, frankly, most real proms do) pays homage to Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and a dozen other fantastically romantic Disney-appropriated stories. Prom, we're told, is a magical night when wishes come true and princes come calling.

It really is all another fairy tale of course. No matter how much glitter you coat the walls with, prom rarely meets the sky-high expectations we tend to saddle it with. And I suppose there's a danger that movies such as this help to turn the real event into something of a letdown.

But there's a little more to the tale. Stories have the ability to shape how we think about things, how we engage with our lives. And when it comes to romance, I think that's doubly true. Long before I ever kissed a girl, I saw people kiss on television and in the movies—and had it not been for those images, I might be kissing my wife with my eyes open to this day. The entertainment industry helped "teach" me what was desirable, what was romantic, what was appropriate. And because I was given a steady dose of black-and-white Cary Grant films as a young 'un, they set for me a pretty good example.

Over the last few decades, the entertainment industry has been preaching that prom is about dirty dancing and filthy behavior—drugs and drinking and losing one's virginity. And Prom is, in many ways, a repudiation of that. For all its silly melodrama and clichés, it tells its audience that prom isn't about sex: It's about love and romance and fun and friends. (Kissing, too, but we've already covered that.) It's about being yourself, or even finding yourself. It's about looking back and looking forward. It's about magic—the sort of magic that's around us every day but we sometimes forget to notice unless we're in formalwear. If teens draw inferences from films as to how prom should be, I'd far rather they draw those inferences from movies like this than, say, Carrie.

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Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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Readability Age Range



Aimee Teegarden as Nova Prescott; Thomas McDonell as Jesse Richter; DeVaughn Nixon as Tyler Barso; Danielle Campbell as Simone Daniels; Yin Chang as Mei Kwan; Jared Kusnitz as Justin Wexler; Nolan Sotillo as Lucas Arnaz; Cameron Monaghan as Corey Doyle; Kylie Bunbury as Jordan Lundley; Joe Adler as Rolo


Joe Nussbaum ( )


Walt Disney



Record Label



In Theaters

April 29, 2011

On Video

August 30, 2011

Year Published



Paul Asay

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