The Prom

The Prom

Dept. of East Coast Liberal Saviours


I’m not quite sure when it happened, but Ryan Murphy may have become the poster boy for liberal content that’s also maddeningly mediocre. Which, I suppose, is a mood. I mean, American popular culture is so overrun with middling mass market content, that surely this is, in some ways, progress. His recent output, from The Politician, to Hollywood, to Ratched, relies so much on quirk and camp that he forgets to build actual characters, leaving us instead with a collection of idiosyncrasies and a few catchy one-liners.

The Prom, Ryan Murphy’s latest Netflix effort, which is based on a Tony Award nominated Broadway musical of the same name, suffers from many of the same problems that plague his other productions, but is saved by just how well-meaning it is. It is by no means a classic. But it is still feel-good and fun.

The movie focusses on three actors, the diva Dee Dee Allen, her sidekick Barry Glickman, and their always-the-bridesmaid-never-the-bride best friend Angie Dickinson (no relation to the Police Woman), who decide to show up, uninvited, to a small, conservative Indiana town and rally behind a lesbian teenager, Emma, who has been denied the right to take her girlfriend, Alyssa, to the prom.

Dee Dee and Barry, who worry that their stardom is in decline, decide that the best way to reignite their relevance – and feed their narcissism – is to seek out a hopeless (but trending) cause to support. They find it in Emma and convince themselves, through song and dance of course, that what this backwards town needs is a healthy dose of East Coast values.

The Prom

What happens after is exactly what you think will happen. There’s plenty of singing and dancing. Lots of inside jokes and self-deprecation. There are messages about the importance of kindness and being true to yourself. (Not forgetting the obligatory note about the magic of theatre.) There is some allusion to the “two Americas” we’ve heard so much about over this last election season, but it is fleeting. Because, as you well know, no amount of bigotry can stand up to the power of song, as everyone comes together in the end having learned the error of their ways.

None of these characters are particularly surprising or inspiring. They’re not quite two-dimensional but they don’t really do anything to subvert, or even exceed, your expectations of who they are. It’s all very Disney. But, you know, about actual gay people.

And much like those Disney musicals, The Prom too is a movie that will sweep you away if you let it. It’s happy and joyous. It may be completely and utterly basic, and about 30 minutes too long, but I was nevertheless entertained. In spite of myself.

Watch our interview with The Prom stars Kerry Washington and Ariana DeBose.

Meryl Streep is always a delight. More so when she’s hamming it up in roles like this one. Nicole Kidman plays minxy with so much abandon that you can’t help but beam whenever she’s on screen. And James Corden is the least annoying he’s ever been. In anything. (Not a high bar, I know.)

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The standout performance here, however, was Jo Ellen Pellman’s. Having Emma smile awkwardly through every single horrible thing that happens to her was an inspired choice. She is trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea. She’s trying to speak her truth, in her own way, and doesn’t know how to do it without offending the nice Hollywood people who have come all this way to help her. So she smiles. She tries to stay cheery as her world crumbles around her feet. So she grins and bears it. The homophobia. The wokeness. All of it.

It is the most potent observation in an otherwise simplistic movie. One that speaks to current state of our discourse and the my-way-or-the-highway activism it so often inspires.

The Prom

As a director, Ryan Murphy’s work here is beyond reproach. The way he’s chosen to stage these massive song and dance numbers is remarkable. The way he blocks every set piece. The way his camera is constantly in motion. Those sweeping overhead shots. He manages to capture the majesty of a stage production and successfully translate it to the (small) screen.

The Prom is feisty and fizzy, with an impeccable ensemble and an adorable story. It is a movie that embraces its goofiness wholeheartedly. It’s not going to change the world. It’s not even all that memorable. But it works in the moment that you’re watching it. Which is, unfortunately, more than I can say for most things.

The Prom
131 minutes
Director: Ryan Murphy
Writers: Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin (Based on the Broadway musical The Prom by Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin, and Matthew Sklar)
Cast: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells, Ariana DeBose, Kerry Washington, and Jo Ellen Pellman

The Prom premieres on Netflix this Friday, 11 November.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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