The Prom

**1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Prom
"The Prom's heart is in the right place but its beat never quite finds a strong rhythm." | Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix

This latest from Glee co-creator Ryan Murphy, about lesbian teenager Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman), who finds herself frozen out of her school prom when the PTA committee get wind that she wants to bring her girlfriend, puts the broad into Broadway and no mistake. Despite its welcome progressive themes of inclusivity, there's an air of pastiche about the songs that feels strained, while the big and blousy staging is oddly dated.

Before things get out of hand in terms of direction and lack of editing, there's an interesting idea, about the way stars jump on a bandwagon, often unthinkingly - something that has become self-parody in recent months on Twitter with one or two ill-judged lockdown "collaborations". And, yes, Imagine, I'm looking at you. So when Broadway stars Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Corden) find their latest show is a flop, they decide its time to find a cause celebre to revive their flagging popularity and it's not long before they, along with chorus girl Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman) and struggling star Trent (Andrew Rannells) hit the road for Indiana to put their weight behind Emma's cause.

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Somehow, however, all the good ideas and intentions of the film take a backseat in favour of star power the long the film runs - and, it must be noted, it runs for a very long time - as Streep and Kidman belt out numbers that are often more concerned with the business of musicals than the business of being a LGBT teenager in the modern world.

Murphy and the camera never seem to settle, with the film's quieter moments oddly muted compared to the rest. There's a Bob Fosse number - Zazz (can you see what they did there?) - that is longing for a lot more leg work and choreography but is constrained by its living room setting, for example. Murphy gets more mileage from the 'bigger' numbers, such as Love Thy Neighbour, a song about biblical rights and wrongs that draws heavily on gospel church music and which takes place in that modern place of worship - a shopping centre.

There's use of bold colour styling throughout adds to the energy levels and Pellman and Ariana DeBose as her girlfriend Alyssa, put in nicely worked performances that give the film heart, but they feel missing in action from the film's midsection as the action drifts off to give all the other characters their moment in the spotlight - the whole thing would have benefitted from streamlining to focus on the central pairing. James Corden is also an odd choice to play the gay BFF Barry. While I'm no purist about gay roles having to be played by gay stars - after all, everyone should be free to play all roles and not find themselves typecast or stuck in a casting ghetto - it still seems strange that given the film's specific emphasis on inclusivity and non-exclusion that they wouldn't cast a gay star here.

Also, Corden, like everything else, plays the role as broadly as possible, so his run through the familiar emotional beats feels increasingly cliched. For all its faults, everyone is clearly enjoying themselves immensely, and that is infectious, with Streep's self-centred Dee Dee lifting proceedings whenever she's about. I also enjoyed the continuing 2020 theme of older women getting younger men to hook up with, as the love interest for Streep, Keegan-Michael Key - who plays the high school principal - is 22 years her junior. The Prom's heart is in the right place but its beat never quite finds a strong rhythm.

Reviewed on: 11 Dec 2020
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The Prom packshot
A group of Broadway stars try to revive their popularity by helping a lesbian teenager who is facing discrimination over her school's prom dance.

Director: Ryan Murphy

Writer: Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin, Matthew Sklar, Jack Viertel

Starring: Jo Ellen Pellman, Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells, Ariana DeBose

Year: 2020

Runtime: 130 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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