Prom King, 2010
It is said that neophyte filmmakers should stick to things they know. It is clear that Christopher Schaap, the writer/director/star of the new film “Prom King, 2010” knows a thing or two about the mavericks that came before him. It may be bit premature to put Schaap in the same league as John Cassavetes and John Sayles, but this New York-based filmmaker’s debut should be as exciting to cinephiles as “Shadows” was in 1959 or “Return of the Secaucus 7” was in 1980.
“Prom King, 2010” was screened at the 2017 Cinequest Film Festival. It is the version that played at this film festival that is being reviewed.
Charlie (Schaap) is a college student in The Big Apple who loves the thought of love and wants to see his life played out like the best moments of his favorite movies. He wants James Dean and Natalie Wood shoving their mouths together with the sublime punctuation of a swelling orchestra. He wants Woody Allen and Diane Keaton at the 59th Street Bridge as Gershwin plays in the background. He wants what so many of us want: that basic human connection between two people, unencumbered by modern nuisances like dating apps and casual sex. Love is a many splendored thing, but Charlie just can’t seem to find it. He’s leery of moving out of his comfort zone, but spurred on by his best male friend, he tries to entice a random hook-up with a hot waiter at a local hotspot, who is both taken and interested, which screws Charlie up even more. His girlfriends are there for him, and his mother and father just want to see him happy (they even help hide his sexuality from his semi-zealous aunt). But every encounter starts to worry Charlie that his homosexuality is an irreconcilable element to the classic Hollywood romance he’s hopeful for.
Oh, yeah. Charlie’s gay. Did I forget to mention that earlier?
Charlie’s story, while seeded within a very specific community this author knows little about, tells universal truths that are not specific to gender or sexual orientation. As Lin-Manual Miranda stated so emphatically at the 2016 Tony Awards, love is love is love is love, and trying to pigeonhole Charlie and the story in to one very narrow frame or scope is unfair to the film, to the filmmakers and to the audience themselves. And while Charlie might not have found his Hollywood ending by the time we depart his life here, we leave him feeling that he’s going to be okay in the very near future.
Now that I think about it, putting Schaap in the same company as Cassavetes and Sayles isn’t that much of a stretch. He is a strong storyteller, even at his young age, and one can only wonder where he’s going to be once he more life experience under his belt. The best films from Cassavetes, Sayles and Woody Allen all came in their 30s and 40s, and if this young man is already this far down their same path as a raconteur, we film lovers are in for some astonishing treats in the future. He also has a dynamic screen presence that could lead to a secondary career as an actor in other filmmakers’ movies.
Of course, very few films are made in a vacuum, and Schaap has surrounded himself with an amazing team that belies its micro-budget. It’s clear that Schaap and his producer Izzy Jackson have a strong connection, and one hopes they will continue to blaze a path forward to returning the kind of personal New York cinema back, that’s been seemingly missing since the likes of Allen taking their stories global, to its rightful place in the film pantheon. It is equally amazing and unbelievable that this film was made for roughly the same cost as Kevin Smith made “Clerks” nearly 25 years ago, and in large part this is due to the fantastic camerawork of Aharon Rothschild and his co-DP Aitor Mendilibar. As cinematographer and his own post-production colorist, Rothschild has taken this scrappy little film and made it look like something a hundred times more expensive. You’d never guess this was shot digitally, the tone and coloring is so lush and vibrant.
This film is a miracle on so many levels. It would be a shame to our cinematic community for this movie to get lost amongst the tsunami of titles that play at the hundreds of film festivals worldwide each and every year. Christopher Schaap is going to be a major player in the years to come, and it would be great to see him in a long-term relationship between studio and filmmaker not unlike Tarantino and the Weinsteins.
Yeah, this young man is that good.
(On a personal note, I would like to profoundly apologize to Schaap and Jackson, who I had the pleasure of interviewing on the last day of Cinequest 2017, for the interview not getting recorded. It was my first interview in several years, and I was working with new equipment I clearly did not understand as well as I thought I did. The interview was great, and it was a pleasure to speak with these two brilliant, eloquent and passionate filmmakers.)Rating: A+