Prom Pact REVIEW – A Modern Throwback

Prom Pact rides on the nostalgia of the 80s but gives us something new.

Prom Pact
Prom Pact

It’s no secret that teen rom-coms from the 80s contain aspects that we now view as problematic. Common mentions include Allison’s makeover in The Breakfast Club, which Ally Sheedy herself labelled “uncomfortable”, and dream boat Jake Ryan handing off his drunk girlfriend to Farmer Ted as some kind of reward in Sixteen Candles. They were products of a different time, but it’s difficult to enjoy the more charming sides of these movies without also grappling with the sexist themes and abundance of racist and homophobic gags.

Enter Prom Pact, which brings all the delightful parts of 80s teen rom-coms, without the dated baggage.

Mandy (Peyton Elisabeth Lee) and Ben (Milo Manheim) are best friends. They spend all their Friday nights together and are perfectly comfortable being on the outskirts of the high school social scene. As promposal season begins, Ben finds himself lamenting that he didn’t do more with his high school life. To cheer him up, Mandy asks him out to prom, and they make a prom pact that they would go and enjoy themselves together.

Mandy’s dealing with more important, life-changing things than prom. Despite her stellar grades and avid social activism, she’s been waitlisted at her dream college Harvard, and starts to spiral that everything she’s worked for will be for naught. Her guidance counsellor Mrs Chen (the always hilarious Margaret Cho) advises her to get a letter of recommendation to help her case, and she realises that Senator Lansing, father of Graham Lansing (Blake Draper), a basketball star that goes to her school, might be her ticket to Harvard. All she needs to do is find a way to get close to Graham so she can meet his father and ask for the reference letter.

We’ve seen enough teen rom-coms to know how things will pan out, but does that really matter when it’s so enjoyable? After a rocky start, Mandy discovers Graham is more than just the school’s basketball star. He’s bright, witty and cares about the world in his own way. He’s also guarded because people get close to him because they want something, either to also get close to his father or to bask in the popularity of being in his proximity. The more time Mandy spends with Graham, the more she likes him, and the guilt starts to overwhelm her. Also, she’s been neglecting her friendship with Ben, abandoning him to spend more time with Graham.

Mandy’s arc feels very similar to Honor’s from Honor Society – a stellar coming of age film on Paramount Plus you should check out. Because we’re so used to sanitized female leads, some may not appreciate a flawed protagonist like Mandy Yang. I feel that Lee plays her with enough emotion and relatability, even if her character is sometimes treated with broad strokes.

The focus of Prom Pact is not the romances, but the friendship between Mandy and Ben. Lee and Manheim are great together, bringing such adorable and sincere energy to the dynamic of their characters. You sense the years of friendship, and the close bond they’ve built over time. But somehow, the film forgot its own focus along the way, never really giving a solid answer on how to negotiate between romantic relationships and friendships, and how to prioritise both without shortchanging the other.

I like the message of urging teens to find balance in their lives, to not focus on their goals to the point where other things are pushed to the side. It’s a relevant, relatable message, and the movie is certainly entertaining, but is it iconic? It won’t join the ranks of other better teen movies of this age, like Lady Bird, Booksmart, Eighth Grade or Plan B, but it’s still a fun time, especially if you enjoy the movies that inspired it.

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Prom Pact
Lee and Manheim are fantastic together, and I love that I got to bask in 80s nostalgia. A fun, modern throwback.