Ticking off yet another box on his exclusive multi-project deal with Netflix, director Ryan Murphy (creator of American Horror Story, Ratched, Hollywood and Glee) has now turned the smash hit Broadway musical ‘The Prom‘ into a Netflix Original Film. With each of his Netflix Original Shows he has delivered something different, while still mostly focusing on relevant LGBTQIA+ topics.
Dee Dee Allen (three-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (Tony Award winner James Corden) are New York City stage stars with a crisis on their hands: their expensive new Broadway show is a major flop that has suddenly flatlined their careers. Meanwhile, in small-town Indiana, high school student Emma Nolan (newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman) is experiencing a very different kind of heartbreak: despite the support of the high school principal (Keegan-Michael Key – ‘Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey‘), the head of the PTA (Kerry Washington – ‘Little Fires Everywhere‘) has banned her from attending the prom with her girlfriend, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose – upcoming Steven Spielberg remake of ‘West Side Story‘). When Dee Dee and Barry decide that Emma’s predicament is the perfect cause to help resurrect their public images, they hit the road with Angie (Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman) and Trent (Andrew Rannells – ‘Black Monday‘), another pair of cynical actors looking for a professional lift. But when their self-absorbed celebrity activism unexpectedly backfires, the foursome find their own lives upended as they rally to give Emma a night where she can truly celebrate who she is.
Let’s just mention it from the start – yes, ‘The Prom‘ has a high ‘Glee’-factor, and no, I have not seen the Broadway musical this was based on. There’s some shady humour, it’s set at a high school and the main character’s girlfriend is basically Glee’s Rachel Berry – outfit and hair styling included. I’m surprised Murphy didn’t ask Lea Michele to return for the role. What bothered me throughout the film is how selfish every single one of these characters are. The principal is the only one who has a genuinely positive personality, but gets sidelined as a love interest to one of the protagonist. Even though the story’s main selling point is the relationship between these two high school sweethearts who because of homophobia and personal struggles aren’t allowed/can’t attend their prom, the story shifts its focus one too many times towards Dee Dee and Barry.
That’s where things get tricky. Sure, Streep and Corden are well known actors and play well known Broadway stars here, but who in their right mind decided to cast Corden in the role of a camp gay man? First of all, he is not a musical star. This has been proven many times before, in musicals such as Into The Woods (next to co-star Streep) and the more recent disastrous musical adaptation of Cats. The only positive thing about his performance is how he actually sells the part quite well when he keeps it simple and doesn’t try to go over the top, which does happen a few times. Streep, clearly begging for these kind of roles that require her to sing, is a wonderful actress, but like aforementioned plays such an ego-tripper who thinks Indiana gives a damn about her career, that you can’t help but not care what happens to her in the movie.
Homophobia and bullying aside, the film does have a glittery core of fantastic musical set pieces, wherein some side characters truly get a chance to shine and where you notice the craftsmanship that went into the detailed music production and choreography. Everyone who gets a line in the script, gets a moment in some musical number. Not all songs leave an impression, but there’s a couple that’ll end up giving you chills by just how well performed they are and the message they carry. Especially Emma’s touching “Unruly Heart” and the ensemble’s riveting rendition of “Tonight Belongs To You” are necessary to keep the film moving forward. With a whopping 130 minutes runtime, the story dips numerous times in between songs, making it in the end feel like a bit of a letdown and quite exhausting, where they just brush over the ending everything’s been building up to, leaving you rather empty.
What’s also a bit misleading, is Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells being billed so high, when both barely have any screen time. Especially the former has one musical number in which she gets to do her thing, yet is one of the weakest songs in the entire film, and actually misses that “zazz” she goes on about. Rannells gets to go full out with “Love Thy Neighbor”, addressing the abuse of religion within this small town when it comes to shaming people for accepting who they truly are. This scene takes place in a mall, where Corden also gets to give a rather dull performance, but where Rannells is given more back up dancers to give a lasting impression.
The Prom isn’t a bad musical. It’s a fun onetime watch and will most likely end up becoming a hit for Netflix. In saying that, Murphy is always quite hit-and-miss, because it’s become clear over the years his ideas are impressive, but the execution is often disappointing. Hopefully the cast benefits from their musical endeavour, unlike the original cast members of the Broadway musical who weren’t even asked to return. Ah, Hollywood, practice what you preach and be more inclusive towards other forms of art.
Netflix Review – ‘The Prom’
Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist through Netflix), December 3, 2020. Rating: PG. Running time: 130 min.
PRODUCTION: A Netflix release of a Ryan Murphy Productions production. Producers: Adam Anders, Chad Beguelin, Dori Berinstein, Bill Damaschke, Alexis Martin Woodall, Bob Martin, Ryan Murphy, Scott Robertson, Matthew Sklar. Executive producers: Eric Kovtun, Douglas C. Merrifield, Casey Nicholaw.
CREW: Director: Ryan Murphy. Screenplay: Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin. Editors: Peggy Tachdjian, Danielle Wang. Cinematography: Matthew Libatique. Score: David Klotz, Matthew Sklar.
WITH: Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Keegan-Michael Key, Kerry Washington, James Corden, Andrew Rannells, Kevin Chamberlin, Mary Kay Place, Jo Ellen Pellman, Tracey Ullman, Ariana DeBose.