The fight to include LGBT2+ proms have been a thing since I went to high school. And apparently it still is, as Ryan Murphy shows in his cinematic adaptation of The Prom. One side of the debate are LGBT2+ students like Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman). With her are allies like Alyssa Green (Ariana DeBose) and Mr. Hawkins (Keegan Michael-Key) a high school principal, and on the other is Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington), a PTA member. This debate rages at Edgewater, Indiana, where Mrs. Greene brings up ‘choice’ to exclude LGBT2+ students. This feels like an alienating experience for little, small town Emma. But little does she know that her fight becomes bigger and more morally complex.
This controversy reaches Broadway star Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep). She wants to use this cause to distract from her failed Eleanor Roosevelt musical. The PTA initially cancels the prom, but it’s back on because of Ellen’s reluctant activism. The fake activism from Dee Dee and her fellow theater actors (James Corden, Nicole Kidman, and Andrew Rannells) apparently helped too. The artifice during Dee Dee and the actors’ early scenes are so strong that it’s a breath of fresh air when they’re not on screen. It feels better when Emma and Alyssa, who, surprise surprise, is Emma’s closeted girlfriend, are on screen. The musical’s writers intended this musical to be about them. And it seems the the film forgot about that, despite even of Streep’s efforts to ground her larger than life character.
Musicals are more popular and stylistically diverse during the past decade than they were during their supposed golden age. But lay viewers still malign them and this entry into the genre has all the things that musicals’ detractors dislike. This film has its share of contrivances, the worst one being its centerpiece scene. Of course there are other ways to make Emma suffer but it makes the mistake of the thing I dislike about other movies. That it sets her, Dee Dee, and the New Yorkers in a scene that seems manipulative. That sadistic quality also pops up because of Ryan Murphy, using the whole movie to pander to people who think they’re allies. And it has its share of ageist jokes against Dee Dee and the other cast members over 40 that appeals to the lowest viewers.
Like most viewers, I wasn’t a big fan of this, and I did my research of what kind of reactions this musical got. Some complained about the relationship that grows between Dee Dee and Hawkins, which isn’t bad. Cinema would improve if they had a three picture deal. Others critiqued Corden, whose reputation is much worse than what his Wikipedia page claims. I have a theory about him, that he was bullied in high school and he’s taking it out on the waiters who trolled his AMA. The alleged bullying, of course, doesn’t excuse his alleged behavior. Murphy likes actors like him – theatre kids who turn into monsters, e.g. Lea Michele. Anyway, Corden hasn’t disclosed his sexuality as far as I know and his depiction of a gay man isn’t offensive. It is, however, as cloying as this musical is.
I also just learned that Netflix released the teaser trailer during my birthday. I will be as diplomatic as possible in saying that I hope they have something better and not corny for my birthday next year, if I live that long.
- Rated: PG-13
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, Musical
- Directed by: Ryan Murphy
- Starring: Ariana DeBose, Jo Ellen Pellman, Keegan-Michael Key, Kerry Washington, Meryl Streep
- Produced by: Alexis Martin Woodall, Bill Damaschke, Dori Berinstein, Ryan Murphy, Scott Andrew Robertson
- Written by: Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin
- Studio: Netflix