With traditional cinema releases being thin on the ground, there’s never been a better year for Netflix to muscle in on The Oscar race. One of the titles the streaming giant is hoping will pick up awards is The Prom, Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of the 2018 Broadway musical.
A packed cast tells the story of Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Corden), two egotistical Broadway stars whose latest production has bombed. Distraught at the lack of plaudits, they look for a cause to get involved with as a publicity stunt.
They find a story from Indiana, about a gay high school girl named Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman). Emma wants to bring her girlfriend to her school prom, but the conservative PTA led by Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington) refuses to let the event go ahead if she attends.
Dee Dee and Barry descend on the bemused town to fight for Emma’s rights, with chorus girl Angie (Nicole Kidman) and theatre snob Trent (Andrew Rannells) in tow. However, they begin to cause more problems than they solve.
Director Murphy takes a bucket of glitter and chucks it at the screen as we get two hours of sparkly, camp hijinks. It starts off very strong with an all-star routine that takes a cheeky swipe at celebrities who attach themselves to causes for good publicity. “There’s a way we can love still ourselves and appear like decent human beings – we become activists!” Corden hilariously proclaims.
Sadly, the film starts to flag when the serious issues are broached. At its heart is a message of acceptance and inclusion, but we see little of the kind of love it seeks to celebrate. Corden’s Barry is a broad ‘Gay Best Friend’ stereotype, there to make catty remarks and give makeovers. He gets a subplot about reconciling with his parents, but too often this feels like another Queer caricature played by a straight actor.
It’s peculiar, given that Murphy has been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ representation in TV with Glee and Pose. The central romance is a bit more realistic, and played by two actors who identify as Queer. Pellman is likeable as Emma, a kid who just wants to be in love and never asked to be a political symbol. She has a very chaste secret romance with Mrs Greene’s daughter Alyssa (Ariana DeBose), which is nice enough but a bit bland given we know little about them beyond their struggles.
Many of the support cast don’t seem to have much to do. Kidman’s part is a a supporting role with a short Bob Fosse-style number in the middle, and while Washington is an interestingly balanced villain, we don’t see much beyond the rhetoric.
Thank goodness for Meryl Streep. The multiple Oscar winner grabs her scenes and turns them into something memorable. She dominates her musical numbers, particularly their arrival at the school where she sings to the bemused crowd that “I read three quarters of a story and knew I had to come”.
She also fleshes out a character beneath the comedy. There’s a sweet romance with the school’s principle Tom (Keegan-Michael Key), a super-fan who teaches her how to be more considerate. In particular, one scene where Streep tearfully recalls a failed marriage feels like it belongs in a much better film, and reminds you just how good she is.
As a film, The Prom reflects its characters: full of good intentions but lacking in execution. Those just looking for a ridiculous couple of hours won’t mind one bit, but for a story about such an important topic it’s missing the impact that should be there.
The Prom is available on Netflix from December 11.
Credit: Original article published here.