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Featured DVD Review: Prom Wars

May 15th, 2010

Prom Wars - Buy from Amazon

Prom Wars is a Canadian movie that actually opened in my hometown. That's very rare, as my hometown is rather small, even by Canadian standards. Even locally made films almost never open here. Population-wise, Abbotsford about the same size as Bellevue, Washington. Most people reading this have no idea where either of those two cities are. The film opened theatrically up here a couple years ago, but it only came out south of the border last month, and it only came out on direct-to-DVD. Was it worth the wait? Or is it no surprise that it is being dumped Direct-to-DVD?

Alia Shawkat (The Runaways and Arrested Development) stars as Diana Riggs. At the beginning of the film, she breaks up with her boyfriend, Percy (played by Raviv Ullman of Phil of the Future), after Percy gets into an argument with her ex-boyfriend Geoffrey and gets really drunk afterward. As a result, Diana convinces her fellow classmates at the Miss Aversham and Miss Cronstall's School for Girls to use their feminine charms to get revenge. Her plan is simple: set up a competition between the two all-boys private schools, Selby and Lancaster, which have a long history of pointless rivalries. Also, it just happens that Percy goes to Selby, while Geoffrey goes to Lancaster, so the matter is a little more personal to Diana. To encourage the two sides, whichever school wins earns the right to take the ladies to prom. It's easy to convince them, because high school boys are nothing if not competitive morons. The war is on. It's a war that includes many battles, from the traditional (rugby games and competitions like arm wrestling) to the less traditional (robot wars and marshmallow-eating contests). Or should that be, "Marshmellow"?

(On a side note, that's a nice little touch. There's something else happening in the background of many scenes and practically every blackboard has some joke written on it.)

The war soon takes on greater meaning than who is going to get the right to date ladies of Miss Aversham and Miss Cronstall's School for Girls. For the Lancasters, it's about exerting their dominance over the less prestigious Selby school. For the students of Selby, it's about not being picked on any more. So when Percy and Geoffrey face off at the end of the climatic paint-ball war, it's bigger than either man.

(That's not a spoiler, by the way, as we are shown the climatic final showdown right at the beginning of the movie.)

It's a basic Slobs vs. Snobs battle that uses the prom as mostly incidental to the war itself. Now, this storyline is hardly a new idea and there are literally dozens of films that deal with it to varying degrees of success. It is also a high school movie, which is nothing unique in the movie world. In fact, you can take these two sub-genres and come up with a list of probably dozens of similar movies. Finally, at its heart there's a love triangle... sort of. It's made quite clear in the film that Geoffrey is only really interested in Diana as a status symbol, or as a conquest, and for him love has nothing to do with it. That said, it is essentially a Romantic Comedy between Diana and Percy. So that's three genres all with plenty of clich├ęs to draw from. As such, one has to go into this movie practically abandoning any hope for honest originality. One must simply hope that the charm of the cast and the specific situations can carry the day.

I'm happy to say that for the most part they do. Some of the characters are a little stereotypical and underdeveloped (Geoffrey was an insufferable prick and little more than that). The rest of the Lancaster students are... well, I would have to look up their names, so you know none of them were memorable. The secondary characters from the other two schools do fare better, as does Rachelle Lefevre, who plays Sabina, Percy's public school friend. Public school! The horror! (She's also the only other character besides the three involved in the love triangle that's on the DVD cover. Strangely, the actress is Canadian, as is the movie, but she's not on the cover of the Canadian DVD. I believe that's irony.) All five of the main Selby students are developed enough that there's some emotional connection there. There's even a nice bit with Joseph, the nerd among the nerdy Selby, revealing his poetry in an attempt to convince Percy to put up a fight.

The situations themselves are also quite humorous. Generally speaking, the absurdity of the contests and the seriousness which the two sides treat them is enough to generate laughs. There's the aforementioned marshmallow-eating contest, as well as the Rock-Paper-Scissors contests that are hard not to laugh at, more because of how silly it all is rather than some deeper subtext.

The film has previously been released on DVD in Canada, which I bought when it was released. Both it and the American DVD have an audio commentary track with the director, Phil Price, who admits early on that he might not have enough to say to fill the whole track. His prediction comes true, as the amount of dead air increases during the last half of the movie. It might have been wise to add a second person to the track. The DVD also has a number of promotional bits, some of which were made for the DVD, like the PSA, while others were simply clips from the promotional releases. The American DVD has more of these than the Canadian one.

The Verdict

Prom Wars is hardly highbrow humor, but it is funny in a fluffy, silly way. There are not a lot of extras on the DVD, but those looking for some light entertainment should check it out. Call it a solid rental, leaning towards a purchase.

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