Unsubtle performances. Impressive musical numbers
THE PROM (2020)
Having tackled the musical genre with the television series Glee (to varied degrees of success), it makes sense that Ryan Murphy would attempt to hone all he knows for a feature film. And indeed, The Prom, the very sparkly, overdone adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, is essentially Glee: The Movie, with unsubtle performances, impressive musical numbers and a message of acceptance and inclusivity that’s just a little too aggressive.
Whilst Murphy certainly knows how to move his camera around a musical number - there really are some show-stopping numbers peppered throughout - there’s no personality or subtlety to what he does. Obviously in a musical temperament things are allowed to be that much more over the top, but that doesn’t always necessarily give permission for performances not being engrained with naturalism. The Prom plays into Murphy’s wheelhouse, but a consistent running time, as opposed to an episodic mentality, only highlights his mediocrity behind the camera.
2020 has been quite a stellar year for inclusivity, and The Prom continues that narrative, only it fails to make the subject as poignant as it deserves to be. There’ll be a generation of younger kids who will all see themselves represented in the community outcasts the film eventually shines a light on - and that’s an amazing thing - but too often does it place its focus on relatively selfish characters who, whilst eventually admitting their faults, don’t earn the audience’s sympathy compared to the central character, queer teenager Emma, who finds herself at the centre of a scandal when her intention to take a girl to the prom leads to the PTA shutting the event down. This bigoted response is what brings a quartet of Broadway stars (or not-so-stars as the case may be) to her small town to fight the injustice, only its masked in selfishness as they only view it as a PR stunt to garner good publicity.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Say what you will about his directorial skills, Murphy knows how to attract talent. Meryl Streep, who is now evidently quite at home in a musical setting, is her usual flashy self and though her character is narcissism personified, we don’t care quite as much as she has the stature to get away with it. She’s having an absolute ball of a time - her numbers “It’s Not About Me” and “The Lady’s Improving” are two of the standouts - and her enthusiasm shines through. Surprisingly, despite high billing, Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells are alarmingly under-utilised. Rannells being an actual Broadway star - having cut his teeth in such productions as Hamilton, The Book of Mormon, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch - means he has the voice and musical personality to execute the heightened reality with believability, it’s just a shame he’s relegated to the background so often throughout; the one time he gets to truly shine on “Love Thy Neighbour” ultimately confirms how much focus he should’ve received throughout. Same for Kidman. An actress of reliability and satisfying musical ability is little more than a supporting player, frustratingly playing second fiddle throughout, until she too earns a solo number (“Zazz”) that questions why has she been so absent for the majority of the film's running time.
Keegan Michael-Key really impresses as one of the film’s few completely likeable characters, and newcomers Ariana DeBose and Jo Ellen Pellman (who comes off like a hybrid between Drew Barrymore and Elisabeth Moss) both impress with their angelic voices and musical sensibility. And then there’s James Corden. At this point it’s practically redundant to lay criticism on him, but it doesn’t take away the fact that he absolutely deserves to be criticised. If ever there was an argument to be made about gay actors portraying gay characters, Corden’s performance here is the proof. Apart from his false American accent, the overly effeminate, almost stereotypical inclinations he injects into his character are completely insulting. It certainly doesn't help that his character is unlikeable too - earning far more prominence than what’s needed - resulting in the type of performance that is enough to question how much you can endure before switching off entirely.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Though The Prom looks very fake and staged, I gather that’s somewhat intentional given its Broadway beginnings. The set-ups are all ripe for musical numbers and there’s a superficial gloss adhered to that manages to feel somewhat natural given the story’s temperament.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
If you have an aversion to musicals than The Prom is best avoided as it’s very much a musical where the numbers happen in relatively quick succession; only rarely does it slow its pace for the sake of character or plot advancement. It’s loud and a little gaudy, but there really is a joy and escapism that’s evoked through the songs on hand. They’re all either rousing or inspirational - maybe too much so - but it is at least committing fully to that mindset.
On the Broadway stage I imagine The Prom’s personality would’ve been easier to swallow. It’s all just a little ridiculous, but it’s heart is in the right place. Streep, Kidman, Rannells, Michael-Key, and the swarm of newcomers all put their heart and soul into the film - regardless of their screen time - and it may be enough for some viewers to indulge in for 2 hours of escapism. Corden will be a make or break for others, and I can only attest that if he’s already someone you don’t particularly warm to, his offensive “gay faced” turn here won’t do the slightest to change anyone’s view.
THE PROM Arrives on Netflix - December 11th, 2020