By Timothy Rawles
At some point in The Prom, now streaming on Netflix, you’ll ask yourself, “What is the actual message here?”
Underneath all its Broadway-infused pomp and circumstance the movie has an important agenda, unfortunately, it succumbs to the weight of its own grandeur.
That’s not to say The Prom is unwatchable; it actually a solid movie musical with plenty of entertainment per capita, specifically the mesmerizing Meryl Streep and the always-dedicated Nicole Kidman.
In its basic form, the story involves a troupe of aging actors who, for various reasons, are struggling in their craft.
Streep’s Dee Dee Allen is an aging Tony-winning stage diva whose latest musical Eleanor! is a critical flop. In the play, her co-star, Barry Glickman (James Corden), commiserates with her at a bar tended by Trent (Andrew Rannells). Chorusgirl Angie Dickenson (Nicole Kidman) shows up, and all of them decide their failures can be fixed with an effectual publicity stunt.
Cut to an Edgewater, Indiana high school where PTA leader Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington) is holding court with parents and the school principal, Mr. Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key), to declare that the prom is no place for a lesbian student named Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman) and that she should not be allowed to attend with her same-sex date.
The story goes viral and our downtrodden Broadway troupe feels this is the perfect cause to get behind in order to resurrect their public images and off they set in a bus for the Midwest to help.
Inclusivity, in case you missed it thus far, is the message here and when the ragtag group of actors arrive at the school they actually think mission accomplished. But it’s not that easy. They discover there are actual people and feelings involved so they collectively work on giving Emma a make-over because, you know, entertainers are self-obsessed.
This all plays out a bit like HBO’s We’re Here or a high-energy musical version of Too Wong Foo. There’s even a bit of conflict akin to Kristen Stewart’s in Happiest Season, but The Prom never lingers too much on sentiment — there’s an overblown musical number for that!
And that’s where this movie succeeds. The musical numbers are catchy and expertly executed. Choreography is high on octane and thankfully filmed with a wide-angle lens to capture the scope of every performer.
Streep loves to sing and it shows. She hams it up a bit, but her genius is knowing when to pull it all back when it’s important. Like her drag queen makeup in this film, it’s laid on thick but decreases along with the character’s self-discovery of her own toxic superficiality.
This is newcomer Pellman’s star-turning role. It’s apparent she identifies with Emma; being gay herself in real-life. She’s required to give Emma an innocence that is unrealistic given her past but never devolves into a victim role. If there is such a thing as a bright light on Broadway Pellman is definitely it.
Kidman has never seemed more comfortable in a musical. In fact it’s amazing that she hasn’t done more. Perhaps my favorite number in the movie is her “Jazz-hot” Fosse-esque “Zazz” with Emma.
A lot of people have criticized James Corden for his flamboyant take on Glickman; a gay Broadway celebrity who struggles with a traumatic past.
Corden, who is presumably straight in real life, does a fine job. If you think about it, he acts like many gay men we all have in our lives. He never makes Glickman a cartoon or joke. It’s a genuine performance worth a bit of praise. That being said, a gay man probably should have been cast because of the character’s very distressing backstory. No straight actor can draw from his method to convey Glickman’s very realistic situation. Was Shangela unavailable?
The Prom has done what most movie musicals cannot. It manages to capture the invigorating true spirit of seeing a live majestic Broadway show (It even has a two-hour-plus runtime). The music is great, the footwork is magnificent, and the acting uncompromised.
Still, by the end of it all, you’re left with a message mired by a tidy ending beneath a mess of glitter, confetti, and well-meaning star power.
You can stream The Prom on Netflix now.