The Prom is the latest film from Glee creator Ryan Murphy, adapted from the Broadway musical of the same name. It follows Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman) who inadvertently causes her high school prom to be cancelled from wanting to attend with her girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose), in a school governed by a PTA that is very much against inclusion. Meanwhile on Broadway, four down on their luck actors (Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden and Andrew Rannells) pick up on Emma’s story and decide to use it as a perfect opportunity to garner some publicity for themselves by showing their support.
The Prom is obviously a personal movie for director Ryan Murphy, after growing up in Indiana himself, but unfortunately he doesn’t quite manage to pull this off. The story has a very important message about inclusion and you can’t deny how powerful this is, but I don’t think it has been very well executed. Yes the entire film looks amazing, the colourful and flashy outfits look wonderful and add some much needed colour when the story moves from Broadway to Indiana. The songs too are good and toe-tappingly catchy, with ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ from Andrew Rannells being a particular standout for me, and I’d be lying if I said the glitz, glam and catchy songs didn’t make me smile. Newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman has a cracking voice and her performance here shows she’s definitely one to watch in future.
However this is where the positives stop. A large number of the songs sound the same and aside from the aforementioned ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ and the finale ‘It’s Time to Dance’, none of them are particularly memorable. The film is full of clichés and stereotypes and awkward dialogue and scenes – the cringeworthy and entirely unbelievable flirtation between Dee Dee (Streep) and Principal Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key) is possibly one of the worst things I’ve had to watch in quite a while. The cast are obviously having a lot of fun with this and it shows in the musical numbers, but some of the characters and performances are entirely unlikeable. I know Dee Dee is meant to be a self obsessed narcissist, and Streep is hamming her up to the max, but she is a horrible character and I couldn’t abide her. Scenes with her that are meant to be comedic to me came across as awful and repulsive. Whilst she does improve over the course of the rather drawn out run time, I’m afraid the damage is done in the first 90 minutes. And I felt very sorry for Nicole Kidman, who aside from a Chicago-esque number, seems to have been entirely sidelined.
But the worst part of The Prom is the decision to cast James Corden as the gay male lead, Barry Glickman. What was Ryan Murphy thinking? I’ve never been a fan of Corden, but surely anyone watching this can see he’s a talk show host, not a Hollywood musical star? Not only is his American accent terrible, his performance is completely unbelievable and overly camp and outdated. How Andrew Rannells could bear to work opposite James Corden in this role when he could’ve shone as Barry I will never know. Had it not been for Corden, I probably would have liked this a lot more.
The Prom is a glitzy mash-up of old school Broadway and cheesy high school musicals, full of colourful catchy tunes, neat choreography and a powerful message, it’s just a shame the characters and some of the casting are lacking in the substance to make this anything better than average.
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