“Nerd Prom: Inside Washington’s Wildest Week” is a documentary film about the White House Correspondents’ Dinner also known as Nerd Prom. But it’s not just a dinner, it’s a whole week of parties, revelry, and brand “experiences.”
By their very nature documentaries about politics tend to be at least a little bit didactic. Patrick Gavin, one time Politico reporter and first time director, certainly wants people to learn something. We’re brought through a checklist of things trying to figure out what this giant sprawling event is about and what it should be about.
Gavin tries to highlight some of the little inhumanities of the dinner. It largely exists to perpetuate itself and not help students. The Lobbying. The blatant networking strivers. The pervasive business interests in the huge parties. The sidelining of the actual correspondents. The celebrity media storm. The red carpet. For someone like me who has only ever seen the hosting comedians’ routines after the fact online, it was an interesting and unexplored take.
Unfortunately, It drags which is rough because the film is only just 80 minutes. Sometimes there are moments of dead air that make it feel like it should play on history channel or something.
That’s not the only problem. Gavin spends a deal of time with magazine Capitol File while they plan their party. Quite frankly, he was lucky to get behind the scenes of this one party and his coverage feels a little “judgey” and is certainly not flattering when it comes to all the dishing that the staff does.
The interviews are varying in quality. The aesthetic swings wildly. From richly textured images of a late night colonnade rendezvous with Fox News anchor and former White House Correspondent Bret Baier to black and white set ups in a closet somewhere, Gavin is sort of feeling it out and taking what he can get. Everything seems run and gun. He hit 20 parties or something. After all, these are important people who are really just trying to down a few and cut loose. A face you might know is Ben Smith, king of BuzzFeed who gets some screen time in the back of a bar somewhere clearly just wanting to make a night of it but courteously allowing himself to be interviewed instead.
The film does pick up though with about twenty minutes left when its main point is made. That there are real transparency issues that Gavin cares about. White House correspondents don’t actually get to ask the president a lot, or even a few questions. As the film ends, Gavin speaks to the camera to get his final thoughts out. Civic virtue, America, that kind of stuff. He seems resigned though. Talking about things like Mardi Gras in New Orleans he says, “In a lot of ways those events are the heartbeats of those cities.” He seems concerned about what the White House Correspondents’ Dinner means if it is the black as coal materialist heart of Washington.
Nerd Prom is a must see for the substitute teachers of High School US government classes everywhere. Nerd Prom falls into the category of good for you but not exactly good documentaries. It achieves its goal of educating about the White House Correspondents’ Dinner but literally checks things off one at a time with a weak through line which just seems to be that Patrick Gavin wanted to make a movie about this.
You can find more information and purchase the movie through VHX on demand here.