We hope that it’s not true that art imitates life, at least when it comes to prom.
With prom season hard upon us, let’s avoid the telekentic blood spurting of “Carrie” or the uber-evil antics of the “plastics” in “Mean Girls.” Still, with all that’s weird and wonderful about high school wrapped in one candle-lit, bedazzled package, prom provides a perfect venue for lots of drama and comedy. For proof, look at the recent release of the slasher flick “Prom Night,” which opened No. 1 with $22.70.8 million in ticket sales.
But “Prom Night” is just the latest cinematic effort to portray that uniquely American institution. Here are some of the highs, and lows, during the past few decades.
Stars: Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, Amy Irving. (1976)
Really, the bucket-of-blood scene has haunted every moviegoer of a certain age (OK, 40s) since the movie was released, and not a girl who watched it didn’t see a little bit of her trash-talking mom in Piper Laurie’s scenery-chewing performance as Carrie’s bat-dung crazy mama who swore that boys were all about the sex. The film gave Brian de Palma part of his early reputation as the king of gore, and it has given every high school outsider—that is to say, everybody who has ever been to high school—the great revenge fantasy when Carrie telekinetically locks up the school gym so she can torture all her enemies and just a few of her friends. Classic final graveyard shot. Ah, Amy Irving, why couldn’t you have been a better friend to Carrie? Or to that Spielberg fella, your first husband?
“Back to the Future”
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd. (1985)
Technically, the word “prom” is never uttered in this film classic, that is according to transcripts available on the wide, wide world of Web. But when the “Under the Sea Dance” requires the wearing of tuxes, buying of corsages and illicit kisses in the back seat of a car, could it really be anything but prom?
This movie is notable because little Marty McFly literally plays guitar hero in the climactic scene, and the disappearing act, although tame by today’s standards, was pretty nifty in the last century. Wasn’t it also a not-so-veiled reference to man’s place in the universe and how we all affect the lives of those we might never truly know?
OK, maybe not. Still cool.
“Pretty in Pink”
Stars: Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer, Andrew McCarthy. (1986)
Pink-obsessed girl (Ringwald) from literally the wrong side of the tracks loves—loves—rich hottie Blane (McCarthy). But Andie—because cool, eccentric girls in teen movies always have boylike names—ends up at prom with her equal quirky friend Duckie (Cryer). But, golly gee, she seals the movie with a tender kiss from her crush. Today, “Pretty in Pink II” would follow them in their “real life” evolution a la “The Hills” as they bar-and hot tub-hop. But back in those times, a PG-rated kiss was a perfectly suitable ending.
“Peggy Sue Got Married”
Stars: Kathleen Turner, Nicholas Cage, Helen Hunt (1986)
Would there be any prom you’d pay more to avoid than the one at which Kathleen Turner hooks up with Nicolas Cage? Us, either. Still, the movie did well in its time, which is odd, given that its premise is that given the choice, you’d make all the same mistakes all over again. Turner and Cage cannot and never could stand each other, leading to recent allegations in Turner’s autobiography, “Send Yourself Roses,” that Cage was a tippler and a Chihuahua-napper, which led to a libel suit that Cage won earlier this month. Even though it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, this is not a movie that has aged well, and our “Juno”-wisecracking teens will not find it at all amusing.
“Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion”
Stars: Mira Sorvino, Lisa Kudrow. (1997)
Dressed as the “Madonna twins,” Romy and Michelle suffer one final high school indignity as the cute boy promises a dance and dashes off on his motorcycle with the prom queen. Life doesn’t take our heroines as far as they’d like during the next decade, so they don business suits and pin up their hair and return to their 10-year reunion as the wealthy inventors of Post-it Notes. The ruse, alas, does not last. Yet, cue the uplifting music, the girls triumph as their truly goofy selves and are whisked away in a chopper by another former class misfit who has become a wildly successful businessman.
Stars: Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Shannon Elizabeth. (1999)
This movie is mostly known for three things: Forever skewing one’s notion of Mom’s apple pie. Introducing the phrase, “Once, when I was at band camp” into the teen lexicon, and having party-harlot Tara Reid portray the “good girl.” At its core, it’s a simple story of a quartet of youths and their life quest. OK, they want to lose their virginity before prom night is over. With all the classic teen movie characters and often-raunchy humor, grown-ups can still enjoy Eugene Levy as the well-meaning yet befuddled dad and Jennifer Coolidge as Stifler’s mother.
“Never Been Kissed”
Stars: Drew Barrymore, Michael Vartan, David Arquette. (1999)
The premise of this movie is one of the journalism profession’s most roundly hooted. The first problem is that a Chicago newspaper—a newspaper that would give a copy editor an office with her name on the door, which we in the cubicle farm find gut-bustingly funny—would send Drew Barrymore back to high school to live through it all again and write about it. Fraud and legal issues aside, Barrymore looks terrible in this movie, and not just in the prom scene, in which she is so shiny, she looks as if she is being prepared to go into the oven at 350 degrees and come out to be slathered with sour cream. Her makeup appears to be designed to make her particularly moon-faced—which, you know, everybody loves Drew Barrymore, but she can tend to look as wide-faced as E.T. If you have prom photos, and you watch this movie, you shove them a little deeper into the drawer that you hope your children will never open when you die.
Stars: Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, Tina Majorino. (2004)
“Napoleon Dynamite” is one of those movies you love or hate: Either the rhythm of high school awkwardness and redemption and the discovery of Pedro’s leadership abilities sucks you in, or you have an ice-block of a soul waiting to be run through the chipper (wait, that’s “Fargo”). The prom is awkward and oddly sweet, just like the wedding at the end.
Stars: Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Tina Fey. (2004)
This is the last really good Lindsay Lohan film before she went all undernourished, then rehab-y. She shines as the home-schooler let loose in public high school who doesn’t realize that in “girl world,” Halloween is an excuse to wear some sort of animal ears and little else, so she shows up at a party as a hideous zombie bride. Ultimately, with a few mini-mini skirts and highlights, she infiltrates and ultimately becomes an uber-version of the mean girls she originally hopes to undermine. The movie, which Fey penned, pokes not-so-gentle fun at shallow teens without ever being overly nasty. Amy Poehler takes a brief but hilarious turn as the “cool mom.” Even the climactic prom scene, featuring Lohan expounding on how everyone should be a prom king or queen in their hearts, doesn’t undo the snarky goodness that comes before. (Mainly because, as the movie makes clear, most people voted for her because they thought she pushed a rival under a bus.)
Stars: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Kieran Culkin, Eva Amurri. (2004)
Jena Malone’s character goes to the prom at her fundamentalist Christian high school hugely pregnant by her gay boyfriend. This is supposed to be oddly empowering in the way that teen movies with unintended pregnancy tend to be, because they never flash-forward to the era of ear infections, school bullies and driven room mothers with battery-operated Christmas sweaters. But you have to love Mandy Moore’s turn as unbalanced fundamentalist Hillary Fay and Eva Amurri (Susan Sarandon’s daughter) as the school’s wisecracking Jewish goth. Classic line, from Hillary Fay: “I crashed my van into Jesus, OK? I have a pimple the size of Jupiter! I am not OK!”