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Film Review: Attending ‘The Prom’ is a Surefire Way to Have a Blast

Courtesy of Netflix
THE PROM (L to R) ANDREW RANNELLS as TRENT OLIVER, NICOLE KIDMAN as ANGIE DICKINSON, JO ELLEN PELLMAN as EMMA, JAMES CORDEN as BARRY GLICKMAN, MERYL STREEP as DEE DEE ALLEN, KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY as MR. HAWKINS, KEVIN CHAMBERLIN as SHELDON in THE PROM. Cr. MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX © 2020

For better or worse, Ryan Murphy‘s work brings out strong opinions. Personally, aside from The People vs O.J. Simpson, his oeuvre hasn’t done much for me. So, I went into The Prom with a bit of trepidation. Go figure, two hours and fifteen minutes later, I came out of it (virtually) with a film of his that I’d greatly enjoyed. Full of catchy music, a smile-inducing vibe, and a strong message of acceptance, this is a lovely musical. There’s one major flaw and a few other things to nitpick, but by and large, this is a very solid flick. Hitting Netflix at the end of the week, it’s well worth a watch.

The Prom is peddling a message, without a doubt, but it does so in a broad enough way that it never feels like that’s the only point. Murphy assembles an A-list cast and then lets them off the leash, allowing for the stars to shine and even chew some scenery. Subtlety is not Murphy’s strong suit, so it’s good that he didn’t even attempt it here. It even trickles down to the cast, befitting the spirit of the movie.

Not every Broadway musical translates to cinema, but this one does. It never feels like it’s “stagey” or trapped by its setting, which is due in part to the actual plot moving locations a lot. With bright colors, musical numbers that have enjoyable choreography, and strong cinematography from Matthew Libatique, the flick has its own distinct identity.

Cr. MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX © 2020

Adapted from the hit Broadway musical of the same name, the film follows a group of theater actors who descend upon a small conservative Indiana town in order to rehabilitate their images. To do so, they’ve opted to support a high school girl named Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman) who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom. When Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep), Barry Glickman (James Corden), Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman), and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells) show up at the school, they cause quite a scene. The PTA head Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington) has initially opted to cancel prom, opposing Emma’s sexuality. Little does she know that her daughter Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) is Emma’s closeted girlfriend.

Thinking they’re helping, the Broadway stars are wholly out of place in town, though Dee Dee catches the eye of the school’s Principal (Keegan-Michael Key), a longtime fan of hers. In reality, they’ve only hardened Mrs. Greene’s position, which leads to embarrassment for Emma. Moreover, her relationship with Alyssa suffers because of it. In turn, that finally opens their eyes and makes this more about supporting a girl’s simple dreams, as opposed to helping their careers. Slowly, plans begin to take shape, with the goal of ultimately changing minds in town. It likely won’t surprise you to find out the end result of their plan.

THE PROM. Cr. MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX

The cast is having a blast here, which rubs off on the audience. The big stars are enjoying themselves greatly (with Meryl Streep in particular radiating fun), but newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman ends up being best in show. She brings a soulful element to Emma and grounds the character. When Streep and company are going so big, she keeps things as realistic as possible. Pellman’s heart allows the rest to be broad and purely entertaining. She’s going to be a star, mark my words. More on James Corden’s casting below, but Corden and Streep do the broadest work, while Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells are closer to enjoyable supporting players. Ariane DeBose (also a star in the making), Keegan-Michael Key, Kerry Washington, and company have smaller parts, but they still make the most of it.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about the Corden casting controversy. Casting a heterosexual actor to play a homosexual one isn’t inherently always an issue, but when the actor in question exaggerates the mannerisms, it can leave a bad taste in your mouth. It was a curious choice to have Corden in the role, when for example (as has been mentioned on social media a lot), Rannells was right there in the cast already. It doesn’t torpedo the film for me, but it’s a flaw that many will take issue with in The Prom.

Ryan Murphy is doing a lot here, director-wise, but it mostly works. To be sure, the script from Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin is a strong set up, but Murphy and DP Matthew Libatique bring a distinctive visual element to it. Murphy made a blunder with Corden, and things run about fifteen minutes too long, but other than that, it’s his most successful work behind the camera, to date. The movie easily overcomes its flaws.

The Prom ultimately succeeds due to the delightful vibe and strong message at its core. If you’ve been a Ryan Murphy fan in the past, this should thrill you even more than usual. The same goes for the cast, especially Meryl Streep fans who have been waiting for her to let loose. When Netflix drops this one in a few days, it’s a prom worth attending.

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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