December 11th, 2020
MOVIE: THE PROM
STARRING: MERYL STREEP, JAMES CORDEN, NICOLE KIDMAN, KERRY WASHINGTON, JO ELLEN PELLMAN
DIRECTED BY: RYAN MURPHY
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
I’d like to think that I am well versed in the world of musicals or musical theatre for that matter. My mother was a theatre director and teacher for most of her entire life and as a kid I was raised on West Side Story and Oklahoma. I credit it to being the reason I’m a hopeless romantic and a reason why I love movies. It’s always the music that draws me to enjoying a musical, but it’s also a matter of production, and spectacle that makes a movie musical the complete experience of cinema. Ryan Murphy takes his swing with his newest venture- The Prom, which is a mixture of Mama Mia and the Trolls movies, and if that sounds terrible it’s because it is. The cast is big- Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, Kerry Washington, and more- but what The Prom does not have is a single tune to hum. In fact, this is a musical with so much sparkle and flash injected into the sets that it’s more inspired by the Las Vegas strip than anything Stephen Sondheim gave us.
The narrative is a bit of a stretch, where a small town in Indiana has decided to cancel their prom, all because Emma Nolan (the adorable Jo Ellen Pellman) would like to bring her girlfriend as her date. That evokes the wrath of uptight PTA leader Mrs. Greene (Washington) and she is not going to let that happen. So ruining it for all the other kids and being an inconsiderate bigot is the hill she wants to live on. With this story all over the news, the message is viewed in New York city, by a collection of arrogant, and self obsessed Broadway theatre stars, Dee Dee Allen (Streep), the flamboyant Barry Glickman (Cordon), and understudy Angie Dickenson (Kidman), and they see it as the perfect opportunity to give themselves much needed press, while doing all they can to help this young woman get the prom that she deserves.
For Ryan Murphy, he seems to have an attitude of, “if I can make it grand, it will make it better”, and with The Prom that sentiment does not exactly work. The screenplay by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, along with the music by Matthew Sklar, is lacking in authenticity. The aesthetic is all neon colors and sequin jackets, while the setting is shot at a studio high school that’s part Grease, part Saved by the Bell. All of the plastic shine on The Prom can’t help it look worthy of many other musicals that have arrived before. It would also be wrong to believe that a musical such as The Prom only exists in a post-La La Land world, but the blame for a musical this bombastic lies solely on the successes of Mama Mia.
The cast is not entirely worthy of the blame, Streep is once again her jovial, boisterous self, obviously doing her spin on a Patti Lupone-type character, Kidman is just loving the show of it all, and newcomer Jo Ellen Pelman has a beautiful singing voice. Sadly, watching The Prom means nearly two-hours of James Cordon, witnessing his painfully offensive gay male character, which is not just mean to the gay community, but offensive to all of mankind. Keegan-Michael Key’s principle Hawkins seems happy to just be a part of the team and it’s his performance as well that embodies why The Prom does not work. The effort is fine, the music is not, but they all are happy to be there.
That’s what a musical such as The Prom is, which is a collection of well intentioned actors, doing the work because it’s fun to them. The entire theme of inclusion and loving who you want to love is a fantastic message and by the last scene the joy is a bit infectious. Sadly, the rest of it all was not fun for this viewer. The music is repetitive without a tune, I couldn’t tell you a favorite because there is none, the choreography is more of a cheerleading competition than anything Fred Astaire did by himself, and the performances would have been the same from any other actors. The Prom was just not the dance that I wanted to attend. It’s better to just stay home instead.
THE PROM IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATRES AND IS AVAILABLE DECEMBER 11TH ON NETFLIX
Written by: Leo Brady