Home Reviews Movie A Pact Goes Awry In Hulu’s Reductive Raunch-Com

A Pact Goes Awry In Hulu’s Reductive Raunch-Com

A Pact Goes Awry In Hulu’s Reductive Raunch-Com

In “Prom Dates,” two high school besties are sent reeling after their carefully orchestrated plans for the future take an abrupt turn, forcing them on a wild overnight adventure across town. If this set-up sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because director Kim O. Nguyen and screenwriter D.J. Mausner have combined a handful of ingredients from “Booksmart” and mixed them with some of the farcical odyssey of “After Hours.” However, unlike this teen raunch-com’s brilliantly conceived inspirations, its main friendship dynamic and ensuing shenanigans fail to resonate due to sloppy character construction and a cadre of cringe-worthy circumstances.

As innocent middle schoolers, Hannah (Millie Thorpe) and Jess (Hailey Philip) took a blood oath – one that went hilariously awry – to make their prom night the best night of their lives. But as seniors, the besties are finding that making good on their pact might prove difficult. Hannah (Julia Lester) is struggling with her sexuality, reluctantly dating dorky theater geek Greg (Kenny Ridwan), but secretly captivated by her super cool lesbian classmate Angie (Terry Hu). And Jess (Antonia Gentry) is feeling insecure in her relationship with her rich, rude boyfriend Luca (Jordan Buhat), who lobs insults at Hannah whenever he can. She’s also harboring a huge secret: She had sex with Hannah’s collegiate brother Jacob (JT Neal).

Things finally come to a head once Jess discovers Luca cheating on her and Hannah flees Greg’s house in a panic after hearing he changed colleges to be with her. It becomes clear to both girls that they need to find alternate partners for prom the following evening. Their journey takes them into foreign territory, like college parties where they awkwardly attempt to pick up new paramours, like Jess’ serial killer Italian exchange student and Hannah’s blonde mystery hook-up (who turns out to be related). They also find themselves embroiled in mischief at a frat party. Yet as time dwindles to find their perfect dates, problems between the two of them bubble to the surface, throwing their pact into jeopardy.

Though it’s interesting to start the two protagonists in a problematic place and, over the course of the film, show them evolving to a more enlightened, healthy friendship, the execution of this concept is severely bungled. Flaws materialize before we’re even out of the picture’s opening credits. From the jump, it’s clear Jess prioritizes dudes over her friendship with Hannah, leading us to question how these gals have even stayed friends all these years. Jess allows Luca to treat her attached-at-the-hip pal like trash, remarking about her size. Not only is some of her behavior irredeemable, she also says horrible things to Hannah that she can’t walk back from, no matter how hard the filmmakers try. So it’s difficult to root for Jess as an individual, let alone for her friendship with Hannah to survive, considering Hannah would be better off without Jess.

While it’s undoubtedly ironic and refreshing to see a hetero leading lady – or co-lead, in this case – dealt a disservice by not being given a formidable arc, Hannah’s transformation, on the other hand, feels authentically textured and lived in. This is partly due to Lester’s humorous and tender performance, nailing the comedic timing and physicality, as well as the earnest sincerity. The other parts are courtesy of Mausner’s insightful character creation and Nguyen’s modulation of tone when those character-driven moments arise. Hannah’s internal conflict dealing with her queerness is indeed a heartening one, perhaps relatable to some in the target audience. It might help open a door to productive post-screening conversations.

That said, there’s a noticeable lack of consistency from the picture overall. When the dialogue is funny, it’s uproariously so, but mileage might vary as to the rest of the jokes. Quirky and wacky scenarios the gals find themselves in – like Jess’ misunderstanding with a dumb jock at a frat house and Hannah’s embarrassment over Greg’s prom-posal – aren’t particularly funny. Neither is Greg, as the filmmakers can’t figure out if we should be laughing at him or with him. Pairing him with milquetoast Jacob isn’t a compelling C-story either. Heather (Zión Moreno) is the rare exception as she leaves an indelible mark with her drunken overconfidence, one-liners and sequin-sporting sparkle. Their zany Principal Lundy (John Michael Higgins) plays like a relic leftover from an ’80s movie. Gross-out gags involving blood and puke feel like binned ’90s-era Farrelly Brothers setups, as does the storyline involving Greg’s mom (Chelsea Handler) and her obsession with their smart pup Lucy (played by dog actor Kiss).

Aesthetically, Nguyen and company demonstrate some visual dexterity. Setting Hannah and Jess’ inevitable fight scene at a romantically lit location provides an inherently amusing juxtaposition between the beauty of the fountain and the ugliness of their argument and subsequent desecration. Hannah’s fantastical visions are perfectly captured through cinematographer Bradford Lipson’s lens and Daniel Reitzenstein’s crisp cuts, from her Lisa Frank-colored daydream about Angie to her slo-mo confident stroll through a party house. Eve McCarney’s production design shines in Heather’s drug den decorated with streams of metallic silver and strings of Christmas lights.

Since the premise is character-driven, it’s a shame better attention wasn’t paid to the characters who are driving the story. Worse, the gimmick ultimately doesn’t hold up beyond act one as it becomes increasingly obvious to everyone but the main characters what the outcome will and should be. There are better prom-themed movies with which to make a date.


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