The world has been without live musical theatre since March, but hopes were lifted when it was announced the Tony Award-nominated musical The Prom was getting a film adaption on Netflix, yet again directed and produced by Ryan Murphy. The story centres around a lesbian teen, Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), from Indiana who isn’t allowed to go to her school prom because of who she wants to bring with her, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose). The word gets out to some out of work Broadway actors in search of a publicity stunt and they come to “help”.
Meryl Streep gives a wonderful performance as the self-indulged Broadway star Dee Dee Alan. Her vocal chops are put to the test in her showstopping number It’s Not About Me and she delivers every note with perfection – even the belt. The number itself provides a comical tone to the usual leading lady number and sure did leave a smile on my face.
There are also stellar performances from Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, and Andrew Rannells. Kidman plays a struggling chorus girl with dreams of playing Roxy Hart in Chicago. She shows off the old razzle-dazzle in the number Zazz, where she tries to encourage Emma to appear on a TV show to promote her cause. The high tempo number allows Kidman to shine in a role that we don’t often see her in. It was a nice call back to her appearance in Moulin Rouge! Whilst her vocals weren’t perfect the performance outweighed that as she produced high kicks for days.
Kerry Washington plays the homophobic PTA head who also happens to be Alyssa’s mother. Washington and DeBose didn’t fail to leave me in tears after Alyssa’s coming out scene in the final minutes of the film. DeBose, who is a Hamilton alumni, gives a truly heartbreaking performance, she was able to capture the frustration and all the other emotions of having to come out to a parent perfectly. Andrew Rannells also gives a decent performance and his song Love Thy Neighbor gave me vivid flashbacks of his performance as Elder Price in The Book of Mormon.
However, I was disappointed (but not surprised) at James Corden’s, frankly, offensive performance. Corden plays an overly camp gay Broadway actor named Barry Glickman, I saw someone refer to it as “gayface”. When the show was on Broadway the actor who played the character was nominated for a Tony Award, I see nothing of the kind in the future for Corden for this performance. In one scene he is reunited with his mother, who kicked him out for being gay as a child. I have never been less moved by a performance, there was no connection there and it didn’t seem believable in the slightest. Also hearing James Corden sing, “We’re gonna help that little lesbian, whether she likes it or not” should count as a hate crime. I am just confused as to why Ryan Murphy continues to not cast people within his own community for gay roles, especially when the straight choice is as bad as Corden.
Overall, the film was a tad cliché. There was too much focus on the Broadway stars and not enough focus on the love story between Emma and Alyssa, it felt like they were side characters to Streep and Corden and definitely reduced the impact of the story. On the other hand, the lighting and cinematography were beautiful, the reoccurring blue, green and purple lights during musical numbers helped to create a nice contrast between the realism and theatricality that many movie musicals fail to do. It’s a pity Corden’s performance was so bad because this movie could have been so good.
The Prom is now streaming on Netfix.
By Arran Proctor