May 24, 2024 1:27 am

Prom Dates
Prom Dates

Prom Dates

“Prom Dates,” about a couple of teenage best-bud girls getting in trouble during the run-up to prom, is a raunchy, R-rated but warmhearted teen comedy. It operates in a mode that’s been around for decades but reached its 21st century zenith in “Superbad” and got a social media-era upgrade in “Booksmart.” It was written by D.J. Mausner and directed by Kim O. Nguyen, who came up mainly through TV sitcoms, and has a sitcom-y feel, despite wide-format cinematography that’s supposed to say “this is different, it’s cinema.” It mostly feels like a very long pilot for a Netflix show that would go to series, build a modest but loyal following, then get canceled after two seasons so the streamer doesn’t have to give everyone a raise for going to three. But there’s loads of talent in it. 

The friends are Jess (Antonia Gentry) and Hannah (Julia Lester). When they were just 13, they hid under a table at a prom they’d snuck into and made a promise that Hannah’s date would be the “love of her life” while Jess would be the most popular girl at school and be named prom queen. Five years later senior prom is coming up and all is chaos. Jess hopes to cement her chances at winning the crown by going with a handsome but shallow rich kid named Luca (Jordan Buhat), but she catches him cheating the night before prom and dumps him. (After Luca’s secret other hookup storms out, he says to the room, “Siri, pause ‘Sexy Time Playlist.'”)

Hannah, meanwhile, doesn’t have a date lined up but gets invited, in song and in the middle of a school assembly, by her obsessive Number One fan Greg (Kenny Ridwan, channeling Mike Yanagita in “Fargo” something fierce). She says yes but her heart’s not in it, not just because Greg is annoying and has no sense of boundaries, but because Hannah is a lesbian and hasn’t come out to anyone yet, not even Jess. 

A long portion of the movie takes place at a college mixer where copious amounts of alcohol and drugs are consumed, and much sex is attempted (though not much actually had). The story flips around on itself multiple times, and would it surprise you to learn that in the end, the girls realize that all they really needed was each other? Well, that plus a bit of wish fulfillment that feels well-deserved by the time it finally arrives.

A lot of “Prom Dates” sounds and moves in accordance with the post-millennium, industry-standard cliches of scripted comedy, which include cathartic or transformative moments that are cruelly cut short by unexpected eruptions of body fluids (puke and blood in this one) and scenes where people have deadpan conversations with individuals at parties who don’t realize how truly, deeply weird they are (quite a rogue’s gallery here, including an aspiring serial killer and a young woman named Heather who discovered liquid courage and renamed herself Vodka Heather).  

A lot of the talk sounds like stuff that a Hollywood sitcom writers’ room would come up: declamatory and workshoppy, delivered in Tweet-sized bursts. It’s a problem at every level of the industry, so it’s not as if “Prom Dates” is a unique case. But the script takes so many shots at such velocity that a high percentage lands anyway, and a lot of it is quotable, even meme-able—especially the bits from Hannah, an emotionally bruised, prematurely cynical, rightly angry person who seems as if she might grow up to write a film like this one. “Your music taste is all women who sound like sad ghosts anyway,” she chides her devoted brother Jacob (JT Neal). When she texts every lesbian and possible lesbian she’s ever met in hopes of getting a prom date, one of them replies, “Sorry! I’m not gay, I’m just really into softball,” and Heather fumes, “That’s a lie! She hit 42 home runs this year!”

The cast is appealing even when the movie stuffs them into pre-fab teen movie character slots. And it’s fun to see so many young actors being encouraged to let their freak flags fly at the same time that they’re being asked to do a lot of old-fashioned character-driven scene work. Gentry and Lester have such genuine chemistry (especially when the characters are fighting) that I wouldn’t mind seeing more films built around them. The performer who goes furthest is Ridwan, who inhabits Greg with a mix of nerdy innocence and fiery individuality reminiscent of young Nicolas Cage in early roles like “Valley Girl” and “Peggy Sue Got Married.” There’s a scene near the end between Hannah and Greg that’s unexpectedly piercing in its honesty. It might be instructive to check back on “Prom Dates” in about ten years and make a list of all the significant actors who first got noticed in it.

On Hulu now.

“Prom Dates,” about a couple of teenage best-bud girls getting in trouble during the run-up to prom, is a raunchy, R-rated but warmhearted teen comedy. It operates in a mode that’s been around for decades but reached its 21st century zenith in “Superbad” and got a social media-era upgrade in “Booksmart.” It was written by D.J. Mausner and directed by Kim O. Nguyen, who came up mainly through TV sitcoms, and has a sitcom-y feel, despite wide-format cinematography that’s supposed to say “this is different, it’s cinema.” It mostly feels like a very long pilot for a Netflix show that would go to series, build a modest but loyal following, then get canceled after two seasons so the streamer doesn’t have to give everyone a raise for going to three. But there’s loads of talent in it.  The friends are Jess (Antonia Gentry) and Hannah (Julia Lester). When they were just 13, they hid under a table at a prom they’d snuck into and made a promise that Hannah’s date would be the “love of her life” while Jess would be the most popular girl at school and be named prom queen. Five years later senior prom is coming up and all is chaos. Jess hopes to cement her chances at winning the crown by going with a handsome but shallow rich kid named Luca (Jordan Buhat), but she catches him cheating the night before prom and dumps him. (After Luca’s secret other hookup storms out, he says to the room, “Siri, pause ‘Sexy Time Playlist.'”) Hannah, meanwhile, doesn’t have a date lined up but gets invited, in song and in the middle of a school assembly, by her obsessive Number One fan Greg (Kenny Ridwan, channeling Mike Yanagita in “Fargo” something fierce). She says yes but her heart’s not in it, not just because Greg is annoying and has no sense of boundaries, but because Hannah is a lesbian and hasn’t come out to anyone yet, not even Jess.  A long portion of the movie takes place at a college mixer where copious amounts of alcohol and drugs are consumed, and much sex is attempted (though not much actually had). The story flips around on itself multiple times, and would it surprise you to learn that in the end, the girls realize that all they really needed was each other? Well, that plus a bit of wish fulfillment that feels well-deserved by the time it finally arrives. A lot of “Prom Dates” sounds and moves in accordance with the post-millennium, industry-standard cliches of scripted comedy, which include cathartic or transformative moments that are cruelly cut short by unexpected eruptions of body fluids (puke and blood in this one) and scenes where people have deadpan conversations with individuals at parties who don’t realize how truly, deeply weird they are (quite a rogue’s gallery here, including an aspiring serial killer and a young woman named Heather who discovered liquid courage and renamed herself Vodka Heather).   A lot of the talk sounds like stuff that a Hollywood sitcom writers’ room would come up: declamatory and workshoppy, delivered in Tweet-sized bursts. It’s a problem at every level of the industry, so it’s not as if “Prom Dates” is a unique case. But the script takes so many shots at such velocity that a high percentage lands anyway, and a lot of it is quotable, even meme-able—especially the bits from Hannah, an emotionally bruised, prematurely cynical, rightly angry person who seems as if she might grow up to write a film like this one. “Your music taste is all women who sound like sad ghosts anyway,” she chides her devoted brother Jacob (JT Neal). When she texts every lesbian and possible lesbian she’s ever met in hopes of getting a prom date, one of them replies, “Sorry! I’m not gay, I’m just really into softball,” and Heather fumes, “That’s a lie! She hit 42 home runs this year!” The cast is appealing even when the movie stuffs them into pre-fab teen movie character slots. And it’s fun to see so many young actors being encouraged to let their freak flags fly at the same time that they’re being asked to do a lot of old-fashioned character-driven scene work. Gentry and Lester have such genuine chemistry (especially when the characters are fighting) that I wouldn’t mind seeing more films built around them. The performer who goes furthest is Ridwan, who inhabits Greg with a mix of nerdy innocence and fiery individuality reminiscent of young Nicolas Cage in early roles like “Valley Girl” and “Peggy Sue Got Married.” There’s a scene near the end between Hannah and Greg that’s unexpectedly piercing in its honesty. It might be instructive to check back on “Prom Dates” in about ten years and make a list of all the significant actors who first got noticed in it. On Hulu now. Read More