The Prom - Right Side of History, Wrong Side of Half-decent
Netflix’s The Prom is directed by Ryan Murphy, the man who gave us Glee, American Horror Story, and Scream Queens. His past work has been original, hugely popular, and some may even say iconic. At its height, Glee garnered 13.66 million viewers, while American Horror Story boasted such stars as Jessica Lange and Lady Gaga. Even Scream Queens had Ariana Grande.
But what about this latest Netflix musical? His latest offering is a whopping two hours and twelve minutes of tired stereotyping, lyrically impressive but nevertheless flat musical numbers, and inter-cut with flashes (and I do mean flashes) of clever humour.
Before we get to the gay-for-pay elephant in the room, I would like to take a moment to talk about some of the right choices made by casting director Alexa Fogel. Meryl Steep as Dee Dee the ageing Broadway legend is a magnetic performance, as usual, becoming impossible not to be drawn to her every moment she’s on-screen.
Her performance is a delightful mix of Madame Medusa from The Rescuers and Amanda Priestley from The Devil Wears Prada. On top of that, her numbers It’s Not About Me and The Lady’s Improving were two of my favourite songs in the movie.
Elsewhere we have Nicole Kidman playing Angie, a perpetual chorus girl still waiting for her big break, and finally, we have Andrew Rannells as Trent Oliver the in-between-gigs-bartender whose soul belongs to Julliard. All in all, the three work together wonderfully with great chemistry and style providing a necessary buffer for the final piece of the Broadway foursome.....
James Corden’s performance as the “gay as a box of wigs” Barry has been a point of contention ever since he was announced to be playing the character. And while the singing and acting isn't technically the worst I've ever seen, isn’t it time we leave this limp-wristed, lispy stereotype in the dark ages where it belongs? (Or at least with those that capture those characteristics themselves?)
Corden succeeds in doing a very good Eric Stonestreet impression (which would be a compliment if he wasn’t also a straight man who made his fortune playing the gay stereotype). It also begs the question of why pick a straight actor to play Barry? Andrew Rannells’ casting as Trent Oliver is proof that there are gay actors out there more than capable of taking on these roles, so why James Corden?
James did have fleeting moments of watchability, especially in the adorable sequence of helping Emma get ready for the film's titled prom. It’s just a shame that a film that boasts such a ‘right on’ message is still so behind the times.
Changing Lives is the typically Broadway opening number that sets the tone for the first act of the film. Barry and Dee Dee are riding on the high of their latest musical 'Eleanor! The Eleanor Roosevelt Musical', but what promises to be a Tony award-winning success falls flat and closes on opening night. As a last-ditch attempt to remain relevant, Dee Dee, Barry, Trent and Angie become activists fighting on behalf of Emma, a Veronica Sawyer-esque character who is being denied from taking her girlfriend to prom, by the homophobic PTA of her high school, who also happens to be her girlfriend's mother.
Emma's opening number Just Breathe sung by Jo Ellen Pellman provides a welcome change of pace and scenery from the bright lights and jazz. It's sweet, self-aware and is the perfect introduction, not only to Emma but the eat-or-be-eaten world of James Madison High. While it doesn't have the same punch the air energy as other high school-based songs like Beautiful from Heathers or Where Do You Belong? from Mean Girls, it sets the scene well and creates max sympathy and admiration for our leading lady.
Despite falling victim to some cliches, such as the obligatory mean girls and jocks that have become synonymous with movies such as this, and some less than compelling subplots, such as Dee Dee's romance with Principal Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key), there are some truly heartwarming moments in this film, particularly in the song Dance With You which centres on Emma and her girlfriend Alyssa (Araina DeBose). Not only is it refreshing to see a love song between two women, but the girls perform the song with such melody and sincerity that it truly tugs on the heartstrings.
Later in the film, we see the equally compelling Love Thy Neighbour sung by Andrew Rannells, as he tries to show Emma's bullies that their Christian beliefs don't necessarily make them good people and that they can't just cherry-pick the Bible for the parts that suit them. It's a high energy, catchy number which Rannells and ensemble deliver wonderfully, making it a high point of the film.
The film does come together semi-tidily at the end after losing its way somewhat in acts 2 and 3. Dee Dee swaps her narcissism for selflessness, Angie gets her big break, Barry gets some closure after reuniting with his estranged mother and becoming prom queen, Alyssa comes out to her mother, and Emma gets the inclusive prom she wanted all along.
Honourable mentions include Zazz the Fosse style number sung by Nicole Kidman, the only song from the tracklist that made it to my Spotify, and the line 'Stop singing! You're making me hate God!' the only line that gave me a genuine laugh throughout the whole film.
All in all, Netflix's The Prom has all the glitz and glam needed for a Broadway hit but lacks the charm needed for the Netflix generation, and to become something that will stand above other musical rivals.
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