What starts out as an all-too-formulaic teen romantic comedy settles into a forgivably recipe-driven think piece on the milestone significance of that unique social gathering known as the prom. It seems like every boy at Brookside High School has the same idea about how to ask his intended date to the upcoming Starry Night Prom: He spells out "PROM?" in giant letters in a public place and waits patiently for the girl to see it and give her answer.

It doesn’t hurt that modern-day youthful versions of Ralph Macchio, John Cusack and Johnny Depp are in attendance. Nolan Sotillo favors Macchio’s Karate Kid days as Lucas, an all-American boy with a nerdy side, on the brink of playing varsity football. Lucas has it bad for his romantically inclined classmate Simone (Danielle Campbell)—who, in turn, still has feelings for wandering-eye varsity quarterback Tyler (DeVaughn Nixon). Nicholas Braun evokes John Cusack’s Say Anything as Lloyd, a good-looking, well-mannered kid who just can’t get a date. Finally, Thomas McDonell plays the Johnny Depp look-alike as brooding bad boy Jesse. It comes as little surprise when events bring cynical loner Jesse into a school-mandated assignment to help prom-planner Nova (Aimee Teegarden) rebuild a prom set destroyed by fire. Embers of desire ignite. 

"If I'm about to kiss you, you'll know it," Jesse coolly tells Nova during an almost-intimate moment. It's the kind of cocksure line teen males secret away for use at the right occasion. Maybe the moment will someday come; perhaps it won't. The hope for the romantic certitude it implies will be around for a long time. Love's bloom is a flower that inspires admiration, regardless of whether the witness is an active participant or merely an onlooker.

Director Joe Nussbaum (Sleepover) makes the most of his Jenny- and Johnny-come-lately cast of fresh-faced young actors. The camera loves these actors who, in newbie screenwriter Katie Wech’s script, are asked to do little more than be themselves. Young horror-movie aficionados may find their minds wandering to Brian De Palma’s Carrie during the coronation of the prom king and queen, when a similar camera angle reveals the onstage action from above and behind. A neatly designed plot twist follows, even if the humiliation that occurs is far less violent than in the Stephen King classic.

Every predictable plot point is underlined—twice—with sincere emotion. Teen movies such as Prom are made to let kids know they are not alone in the whirlwind of events and moods of high school. To that end, Prom plays every heartstring like a well-worn melody.

Directed by Joe Nussbaum
With Aimee Teegarden, Thomas McDonell, DeVaughn Nixon, Nolan Sotillo, Danielle Campbell and Nicholas Braun

Dreamcatcher, Regal Stadium 14
103 min.