Among the most aspirational things about high school is the allure of prom. Who will you go with? What will you wear? What will the theme be? As freshman, sophomores, and juniors, you pray a senior will ask you so you can attend more than one. And then when it’s your turn, the anticipation can almost kill you. But for the lead in Disney’s newest comedy, Prom Pact, it’s just another annoying school event on her way to bigger and better things after graduation.
Peyton Elizabeth Lee (Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.) stars as Mandy, a studious senior who is waitlisted at Harvard and doing whatever she can to get accepted. Her best friend Ben (Milo Manheim, ZOMBIES), however, is starting to feel like he missed out on the quintessential high school experience by sitting on the sidelines with Mandy and mocking the “Everests” (people whose lives peak in high school). To satisfy her friend, Mandy makes a pact to go to prom with Ben. What could go wrong?
The main conflict comes in the form of school jock and heartthrob Graham Lansing (Blake Draper), who needs tutoring in an AP class. He just so happens to be the son of a prominent Harvard alum whose letter of recommendation could help Mandy move from “waitlist” to “accepted.” And while dragging Ben to their first party to try and convince Graham he needs Mandy to tutor him, Mandy unintentionally sets off a chain of events that will find her falling for the school jock while Ben unpacks his feelings for his longtime crush LaToya (Monique Green, Big Shot).
Prom Pact taps into the 1980s John Hughes nostalgia in every way possible. Although Disney branded, Prom Pact carries a TV-14 rating and strives for an audience that is more mature than the typical Disney Channel crowd, which makes its broadcast premiere somewhat of an oddity. In films like High School Musical 3: Senior Year or Disney’s Prom (2011), the realities of high school life are washed away. Here, there’s talk of underage drinking and sex in addition to implications that both are happening just out of view. It’s tame by your typical PG-13 teen comedy’s standards, and yet pushing the comfortable limits of what viewers expect from a title with the Disney name attached (as opposed to other brands already aimed at this demographic, such as Freeform or Hulu)
While the film is undeniably aimed at the current generation of teenagers, Prom Pact also taps into nostalgia by way of the school’s ‘80s-themed prom. This extends to the extravagant “promposals” that pay homage to classics like Dirty Dancing, Risky Business, and The Breakfast Club. The adult cast also includes the likes of comedian Margaret Cho (Fire Island) as Mandy’s guidance counselor, plus Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs) and David S. Jung (Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.) as Mandy’s parents. These cameos deliver some of the biggest laughs, in addition to Milo Manheim as a loveably awkward teen.
There are a lot of pros to Prom Pact, which lovingly embraces the coming-of-age comedy format pioneered by John Hughes while avoiding obvious pratfalls, like having two opposite-sex friends fall for one another. Where it falters is in its attempt to remain Disney branded, skirting around themes that feel edgier than any DCOM ever has, while feeling tame in comparison to your average teen comedy. The film likely would’ve played better had it been allowed to jump to Freeform or Hulu and embrace all of the honest teenage aspects, rather than the coded references that are at times groanworthy.