Before he goes to bed every night, Judge Daryl Loomis plays Taps for himself, just in case.
Love is a battlefield.
When I hear of some new teen comedy, my mind instantly travels to the pie-humping, secret camera-watching humor that we've grown all too used to. High school can be great fodder for comedy, but Prom Wars shows that you don't need all the gross out raunch to make a good movie. This little Canadian film hearkens back to the old screwball days and sets itself in an affluent private school society to deliver strong characters, good writing, and a smart, enjoyable film.
Facts of the Case
Debbie (Alia Shawkat, Arrested Development), the queen of her girls' school, is embarrassed in front of her friends and family by her boyfriend. She knows that she and her friends are the only ones who put any effort into their relationships, and she's sick of it. Two rival boys' schools, one a haven for jocks and the other for nerds, are in a constant feud for the girls' attentions, so the girls decide to make the competition official. The two schools will compete against each other in a series of events throughout the year. Whoever wins the most events wins bragging rights, the glory of their school, and the exclusive right to take the girls to the prom.
In a high school comedy, you don't get a whole lot more basic than the jocks and nerds rivalry. It's a rivalry that exists in reality, and putting them together kills two birds with one stone by focusing on two groups with unlimited spoofing potential. Prom Wars distinguishes itself by adding a third group, the venerable comedic institution of schoolgirls, to pull the strings. The girls set themselves up as the objects of a love triangle and, while they do come to regret some of what they cause, they maintain control of their situation at all times. Led by the sweetly scheming Debbie, the girls of Miss Aversham and Miss Cronstall's School for Girls are smart, cute, persuasive, and get what they want. If they don't, they get vindictive. When her nerdy current boyfriend, Percy (Ricky Ullman, The Big Bad Swim), and her jock ex, Geoffrey (Kevin Coughlin), humiliate her because of their jealous competition, she decides to teach them a lesson. But not just them; it's time to get back at all the boys for everything they've put them through over the years.
Alia Shawkat is a capable leader, ably using her skill and charm to manipulate both her friends and the two boys' schools. The actress worked with true comic heavyweights on Arrested Development, and shows off what she learned here. Her timing and delivery are great, and her presence is a real boost to a cast that has very little overall experience. She easily has enough charisma to lead the girls into a battle they never really wanted and enough steel to whip them back into shape when they fall out of line with the plan. The rest of the girls are an attractive, but mostly faceless bunch. They display enough personality to get by, but Shawkat pulls all the strings, both in story and in laughs.
The two groups of boys have a little more personality. Their performances aren't much of an improvement, but they're a very young group of actors who are physically right for their roles. Jocks and nerds are natural, but they're an earnest and believable bunch. The jocks are entitled and obnoxious, just as they should be. Their smarm provides a lot of laughs, and director Phil Price (Hatley High) puts a strong and strangely appropriate homoerotic slant into their story. The nerds provide the heart of the film, and are a welcome change from the usual teen comedy dork. They intend to lose their blasted virginity by winning the contest just like nerds are supposed to, but they're realistic enough about themselves to question how far they might get with the girls. As one of the nerds rather sweetly says, "I'd just be happy to have a nice time with a nice girl."
What most sets this film apart from its teen comedy kin is its clean, adult humor. The laughs in Prom Wars are character based and come from a more situational, screwball tradition; a welcome change from the boob-grabbing misogynist gags we've come to expect in these films. The writing is smart and subtle and Price lets the actors play the scenes out through the dialog. There aren't a lot of laugh-out-loud moments in the film, but the little moments of physical comedy are well done. Even if it isn't the most immediately hilarious movie in the world, it is much funnier upon second viewing, when you can more easily hear the dry wit in the actors delivery and see the little Great Gatsby jokes that populate the blackboards. Prom Wars isn't a great comedy, but these small things make it entertaining, and it's certainly a cut above the average teen comedy.
The DVD of Prom Wars from E1 is on par with their usual releases, which means there's nothing particularly special about it. The anamorphic transfer doesn't look bad; the colors are fairly bright and strong, but there's an overall flat quality to the image. The surround sound fares similarly. There's nothing wrong with the mix, but there's little to praise, either. The dialog is clear and the music is reasonably strong, but there is little separation and no dynamics, nothing beyond a very standard design. The extras consist of a dry but informative commentary from Phil Price and a series of short clips from the film compiled under a heading of teasers.
Prom Wars isn't a laugh riot, but it's a smart and well made teen comedy that is funnier the second time around. It doesn't change the face of the nerd and jock rivalry, but it's still a good time.
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