The Prom. Movie Review

Having seen both seasons of The Politician and the abysmal ( outside of Jim Parsons performance) Hollywood it’s fair to say this critic has not enjoyed the majority of the Ryan Murphy Netflix content he has seen. This is material built for Stan armies to fawn over regardless of objective quality or ethical questions that may arise ( especially in the case of Hollywood.) Now comes Murphys latest effort. An adaptation of the 2018 Broadway musical of the same name with a huge All-Star cast ( Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman Keegan Michael Key, Kerry Washington and others.) As a musical theatre fan, this reviewer had heard of the show in passing but was not familiar with it before sitting down to watch the film. The presence of James Corden and Murphy in the director’s chair meant expectations were suitably lowered. is this the next great musical?
No. The word this critic thought of to describe the film adaptation of The Prom is ghastly. In large part this down to the narrative focus. Streep Kidman Corden and Andrew Rannells are members of a Broadway cast stars whose latest endeavour flops both financially and with critics. They decide to visit an Indiana town to help two lesbian teenagers in a bigoted town after the central couple is denied the chance to attend the school prom. In there heads it to get themselves some good publicity. Having not seen the original show this author can’t say how much of the choice to focus the narrative on the actors is baked into the fabric of the original show and how much was determined by Murphy as director. At the very least this narrative fits the sort of representation seen in other Ryan Murphy Netflix projects. Veering more towards tokenism then authenticity exclusively so whatever project can be in contention for whatever pride /GLADD media endorsed awards are being handed out this week.
It’s not even that musicals with ethically questionable premises or framing can’t work. One of these critics musical favourites ( having seen the London production) is Come From Away. If you were to describe the basic premise and framing of that show to someone unfamiliar with it would likely raise some of the same tonal and ethical questions. That said the piece has an incredibly strong emotional core is what enables the emotional connection with audiences even with questions about if a musical set against that specific backdrop should even exist. Assuming the in-development film adaptation ever sees the light of day no doubt there will be some ethical debates amongst those for whom the film will be their first exposure to the material.
Getting back to The Prom the music and performances are the least interesting thing the film has to offer. This is despite Meryl Streep playing it entertainingly over the top enough to resurrect the ghost of Donna from Mamma Mia. James Corden guns his way through the musical numbers as expected and Nicole Kidman is shockingly underutilised for a star of her calibre. The teenagers do fine with the material they are given but as expected given the framing of the overall film their characters feel bland and underdeveloped. It’s a real shame. There’s a solid Everybody’s Talking About Jamie style storey in here somewhere. The film is so preoccupied with wanting to seem simultaneously LGBTQ friendly and weirdly tokenist that’s not the side of the story Murphy and crew are interested in. The music is fine enough but this is another case of productions being bit by The Greatest Showman bug prioritising bombast over everything else.
There’s a potentially good musical somewhere within the film adaptation of The Prom. It works for certain audiences on stage. That said the potentially interesting elements are not what Ryan Murphy and his team wanted to elevate in when adapting the material for the big screen. Awkward, tokenist and potentially very offensive it’s one of the most embarrassing failures released in 2020. Given that the director and his production company also inflicted Hollywood on unsuspecting Netflix audiences this year there’s an argument for this being even more tone-deaf than that disaster. Even die-hard musical fans should avoid the film like the plague. If viewers are desperate for their LGBTQ musical fix pro shots of the awesome Kinky Boots musical ( covered in an earlier review) and the previously mentioned Everybody’s Talking About Jamie ( before its upcoming film adaptation) are available. Don’t let Ryan Murphy continue to deliver insensitive garbage like this.

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