Prom Dates

Prom Dates offers nothing in the way of entertainment, but it may have significant educational value for future generations of filmmakers who want to learn how not to make a comedy. The movie falls victim to common mistakes, such as mistaking crudeness for wit. Its problems go far beyond that, though, coming right down to the fundamental issue of joke construction. From start to finish, this is an unfathomably inept work.

Troubles start in the very first scene. Two young girls have somehow snuck into a high school prom. (The film doesn’t bother to explain how or why.) Hiding beneath a table, they make a blood pact to eventually attend their own prom under perfect circumstances. The sequence lasts about 75 seconds, gives us no sense of the characters’ personalities or motivations, and ends with a gross-out gag where a young woman’s dress gets covered with blood.

Those girls grow up to be aspiring prom queen Jess (Antonia Gentry) and closeted lesbian Hannah (Julia Lester). The former has a cheating boyfriend, the latter a suitor named Greg (Kenny Ridwan) who is a cliché of the clingy, overbearing nerd. (He’s also Asian, so there’s a touch of Long Duk Dong-esque racial stereotyping at play.) Things fall through with their anticipated prom dates, sending them to a local university, hoping to find replacements. Jess flirts with a guy who doesn’t speak English and, in subtitles, tells her that he’s a satanist looking to make a human sacrifice and practice cannibalism. Such is the level of the movie’s comedy. Hannah, meanwhile, has her sexuality awakened by a cool, confident lesbian named Angie (Terry Hu).

D.J. Mausner’s screenplay isn’t great to begin with. Certain ideas have promise, especially the one where a teen learns to embrace her sexuality through the entire rigamarole of attending prom. More often than not, they’re buried beneath strained efforts at wackiness, like the high school principal (John Michael Higgins) who inexplicably tries to put a condom over his head during a sex education lecture. Jess and Hannah don’t have clearly defined personalities, either. We don’t understand who they are or why they’re friends. The girls are just spouters of vulgar wisecracks and lame pop culture references. That becomes a particular problem in the third act, which tries to get emotional by having the besties fight. Because we don’t know them beyond a surface level, the effort falls embarrassingly flat.

Kim O. Nguyen’s direction does the material no favors. She rushes through the set-ups to comedy bits, failing to establish the elements properly. Punchlines therefore arrive too abruptly and make no impact. Comedy requires patience. All the pieces need to be put firmly in place so that the joke lands. That’s why Booksmart - which this movie tries very hard to be in the vein of – worked so well. The characters had dimension, their predicaments were constructed with care, and the payoffs were clever. In the case of Prom Dates, the exact opposite is true. With a running time of 81 minutes, minus end credits, there was plenty of room to let the humor breathe a little bit.

What’s really a shame is that the intention to make a queer-themed teen comedy is a good one. We could use more of them. An adolescent audience exists that needs greater representation onscreen. Prom Dates lets them down with a sloppy, shallow approach.

out of four

Prom Dates is rated TV-MA for strong language, sexual content, and drug/alcohol use involving minors. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.


© 2024 Mike McGranaghan