Teenage-oriented films and television shows are often difficult to endure, simply because the writers behind these projects have no clue about how real teenagers speak and behave. Too often, the Hollywood concept of teen life is a third-rate riff on Neil Simon territory (all wisecracks and dopey antics) or a dreary serving of soap suds that comes across as a kiddie version of Lifetime.
Thus, the proverbial A-for-effort is deserving for Nicholas Terry, who created the feature film “Senior Prom” as a thesis project during his senior year of high school. Using his classmates as the cast and relying heavily on improvisation, “Senior Prom” provides a distinctive view of teenage life as seen through the eyes of the demographic that is actually living it.
Terry relies on a mockumentary format to follow the paths of 10 seniors as they face their upcoming prom. One girl has already decided to avoid it, citing her intimidating presence among her classmates. “They don’t come near me,” she says of her male peers. “So I don’t date.”
Others, however, are eager to score a date – but their lack of social skills and self-confidence never truly rise to the occasion. The film’s funniest and most bittersweet moment comes when a young man telephones ever girl in his senior class in the vain hope of finding a date. “You’re grandmas’s gonna die?” he incredulously asks one of the disinterested targets before he callously wonders whether granny can hold off expiring until after the prom date.
For the most part, Terry and his cast tap a genuine vibe on teen life. This is especially true with the male characters – the guys are eager (perhaps too eager) to show off what really matters to them (hobbies, team sport pursuit, their other guy pals), but their attempts to turn on the Don Juan charm hilariously backfire among the indifferent girls in their classes. There is also a very charming and totally unexpected (but fully believable) conclusion to the plot line where the aforementioned intimidating lass is pursued by the geekiest of the geeks.
However, the film makes the mistake of narrowing its focus to a social circle that is far too homogenous. All of the girls come across as bossy and tiresome and the guys are too socially awkward for comfort. The film’s one genuine error is a subplot involving a long-time couple that abruptly split up – the chaste element of their relationship is too sugary for consumption and the sudden collapse of their union strikes a false chord. As for the prom itself – well, that is barely seen, which is more than a little disappointing in view of the chatter building up to it.
Nonetheless, “Senior Prom” is a very impressive achievement as the debut work of a student filmmaker. According to his web site, Terry is now 18 and is attending Edmonds Community College, with plans to transfer to a four-year film school. But is that really necessary? If Terry can create a fine film like “Senior Prom” while in high school, I suspect that he will be on the fast track for a successful career behind the camera.