Starring Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells. Directed by Ryan Murphy.
Ryan Murphy must have one hell of a mortgage to pay. His Netflix deal has already given us films and TV series, and now we have this adaptation of the 2018 Broadway musical.
The story follows Emma, a High School teen whose desire to bring a girl to the prom causes it to be cancelled. Enter four Broadway types who decide that getting involved will change the perception and help the young girl.
From the off, this is as glossy as you would expect from the mind behind Glee. Unfortunately, The Prom features everything that is problematic with Ryan Murphy’s work. It’s obsessed with the easy cop-out of storytelling, so it’s all big emotions, very basic depictions of homosexuality and all the gloss to cover up its narrative issues.
The problem might be with the original show; the songs are pretty much all forgettable except “Unruly Heart” which provides the narrative heart of the film, and the fun dance number “Love Thy Neighbour” which is sung with glee by Andrew Rannells. All the songs are OTT fun pop tunes, but none last very long and all play at the same level. It’s playing the glitter with no grit. The other issue is that the four Broadway luvvies that descend on this small town are the most obnoxious conceited types ever, constantly saying “this isn’t about me” before making it entirely about them.
For the most part, the cast are fine; Rannells and Keegan-Michael Key get off unscathed, while Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman camp their roles up enough to paper over that Kidman is sorely underused and Streep is unlikeable to the end. James Corden, however, is woefully miscast as gay broadway singer Barry. It’s not that a gay man should have the role because that is a problem unto itself, it’s that Corden for all his camping and affectations is annoying on screen and cannot hold a candle to Nathan Lane or the late Glen Shadix. It would have been preferable if they had managed to get Eric Stonestreet in the role.
Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose as the two lovers are perhaps the most engaging and when the story focusses on them it’s a film of great weight and emotional heart, unfortunately, these four obnoxious types keep stealing the light to wank on about their own personal issues.
Even so, the musical numbers are well done, and they do have a style to them, and the emotional moments hold enough weight that many of the LGBT+ audience members will likely see themselves reflected in the events playing out. Pellman and DeBose deserve recognition for the heart they bring to the film, but once again this is Murphy playing on basic surface level cliches and thinking more glitter will cover up emotional voids.