The Prom ***
Starring: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key, Jo Ellen Pellman, Ariana DeBose
Director: Ryan Murphy
Back in 2010 Constance McMillen, a high school student in Mississippi, was banned from attending her prom because she intended to bring a female date. She successfully sued the school and her story gained traction online, with the support of celebrities from all over the US. A musical based on Constance’s story debuted in 2016 in Atlanta, before transferring to Broadway in 2018. Now, debuting on Netlfix, is the all-star glitzy movie adaptation from director Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story, Pose).
Dee Dee Allen (Streep – The Devil Wears Prada, The Iron Lady) and Barry Glickman (Corden – Into The Woods, Cats) are Broadway actors whose new show has been savaged by critics, who called its stars “narcissists”. In an attempt to rehabilitate their image, they hunt for a worthy cause to publically support, with the help of chorus girl Angie (Kidman – Moulin Rouge!, The Hours) and undiscovered actor Trent (Rannells – The New Normal, The Boys In The Band). They find the story of Emma (Pellman), a lesbian high school student from Indiana who has been banned from attending her prom with a girl and then successfully sued her school, only for them to cancel the entire event. Sensing that this story might give them the coverage they are craving, they head east and arrive at their school in a flurry of glitz and sequins, to find a headteacher (Key – Fargo, Parks & Recreation) wholly supporting his student, but the prom being blocked by the head of the parents’ council (Washington – Scandal, Django Unchained), who is blissfully unaware that it’s her daughter (DeBose – upcoming West Side Story) Emma intends to take as her date.
Hollywood has often been accused of coming late to the party. Had this film comeout a decade ago it would rightly have been hailed as socially significant, but a decade later and this feels somewhat twee. British musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (whose movie adaptation is due early next year) covers much of the same territory, but focuses more on gender expression than sexuality, which is definitively more relevant to a 2020 audience. Worthy though The Prom’s cause is, it’s preaching to the choir, to a generation that already agree with everything it’s saying. Love, Simon was such a roaring success, after all, because it was refreshingly NOT about others’ issues with his sexuality, but instead the bigger conflict of accepting himself, which resembles far more what teenagers face today.
Netflix has clearly spent a lot of money on this film. It feels like High School Musical and Glee had a woke baby, made it watch makeup tutorials and asked it to assemble friends based on their diversity. Its political correctness is overwhelming at times, virtue-signalling in every frame, but then making a big song and dance about the Christian beliefs of Middle Americans, but somehow completely forgetting about diverse religions along the way. In a film that’s going out of its way to be inclusive – they’re aiming for an “inclusive prom”,- after all – they are actually failing at doing exactly that, forgetting that not everybody is a Christian.
The musical numbers are often big and belting, with Streep showing off her impressive range and Nicole Kidman finally recapturing the vim of Satine two decades later. Corden is fun, regardless as to your opinions of his casting as a gay character, while Washington revels in pantomime villainy with great aplomb. Every frame is lacquered with a glossy veneer, with the Broadway pizzazz bleeding into the high school, which is the most glamorous high school with the oldest pupils on screen since, well, Glee.
To give The Prom its dues, this is fantastic family fun, with a belting soundtrack and a message that you’ll be happy any teenager will remember. It’s frothy, light and silly, but in giving this particular issue the Hollywood treatment, it’s polished the turd of homophobia so much that even Emma’s hardship seems glamorous in itself. But does a family film have to be so goddamn saccharine sweet? It’s a film with admirable intentions, but feels dated even on its first day of release. Watching Meryl Streep cavorting her way through energetic show tunes will doubtless make you smile, but I’m holding out for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie to give me a Queer prom story with a bit of an edge.
OUT NOW TO WATCH ON NETFLIX.