REEL Review – The Prom (2020)

Director: Ryan Murphy | 2h 10mins | Comedy, Musical

When their newest Broadway show “Eleanor!” receives bad reviews, a group of narcissistic Broadway stars look for a cause that will give them some good publicity. While searching, they find a teenager in Indiana who hasn’t been allowed to go to Prom, just because she wants to go with her girlfriend.

Ryan Murphy, one of the busiest people in Hollywood, has taken some time away from his multiple TV series-creations to direct this Broadway adaptation about star narcissism and the wholesome idea of acceptance in a world rife with bigotry. While the fun you have during this film is evident, it’s not without numerous problems that sadly affect the films ability to stay with you, something that seems pretty important in a time like this.

The narcissistic stars in question are Dee Dee Allen, played with elegance and flamboyance by Meryl Streep, as well as her stage compadres Barry Glickman (James Cordon), Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells) and Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman). After scathing reviews of their Eleanor Roosevelt musical, they get left in the gutters of the New York Broadway scene. But luckily for the troupe, after a nonchalant web search they find the perfect cause to get them back into the good books in the form of a Lesbian teen in Indiana, who has been disallowed to go to prom with her girlfriend.

All four of the performers are very good at capturing that over the top, attention seeking, stereotype of the broadway star. They all feel like they’re owed something from the people around them. Think Gloria Swanson’s performance in Sunset Blvd. (1950) but with about 95% less depth. Much like a lot of Ryan Murphy’s work, the characters mostly on the surface – but the problem is really about the casting of one person in particular.

It may have a seemingly talented cast, but The Prom’s problem is in it’s misguided attempt at utilising them.

The casting of James Cordon makes sense, he’s a Tony Award-winning Actor with a history of film musicals in his own right. He’s also become one of the most recognisable faces in the U.K. and in the US. The problem is that his character Barry Glickman, an open homosexual who’s struggled with parental acceptance in his teen years, deserves a much more honest performer at the helm. A film like The Prom is important because of it’s message of acceptance, and that acceptance deserves an honest portrayal, so casting a straight Actor like Cordon in the role feels a little backwards.

Corden isn’t necessarily bad, he shows much more range than he ever has before, but he’s often overshadowed by his co-star Andrew Rannells (who probably should have been cast as Barry in the first place). In fact, the most entertaining the film gets is during Rannell’s song “Love Thy Neighbor” – a song in which Trent Oliver dances and sarcastically sings about the hypocrisy of Christian beliefs. Much like Rannell’s another underused actor is Nicole Kidman, a forgettable choir girl who again really only gets to show her talents in the song “Zazz”, and ode to Bob Fosse. It may have a seemingly talented cast, but The Prom’s problem is in it’s misguided attempt at utilising them.

The teenager that the “New York Liberals” come to save is Emma Nolan – a small town girl who’s in a secret relationship with her in-the-closet girlfriend, who just wants to be herself on the biggest night of her school year. This is the films strongest hand, using it’s younger cast to give a voice to people who need it, and when the film isn’t concentrating on a Streep/Michael-Key romance a little too much, you can genuinely feel it’s need for change through the sparkling passion of it’s youngest members in it’s cast.

Once Emma has delightfully told her own story in her own way, the film ends befitting of both theme and character. An extravagant Prom in which everyone and anyone is invited no matter who they are. It’s the kind of ending that allows all bows to be tied neatly and gives each character a befitting ending. This new Prom sees even the film’s main villain, a bible-driven PTA member (played by Kerry Washington), accept her own daughters happiness as a lesbian. It’s a sweet notion, one that’s reminiscent of Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood (2020) ending, but it doesn’t really challenge anything in reality.

The Prom will never be among the great Film musicals, it’s far too crowd-pleasing and unoriginal for that. But, much like other Broadway adaptations Hairspray (2007) and Rent (2005), The Prom is running on explosive charm and an endearing theme. It won’t stay with you for very long, and you may even discard it for it’s countless flaws, but Ryan Murphy’s glamorous Musical commands your enjoyment all the way through it’s 2 hours and 12 minutes runtime.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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