The Prom (Review)
The opening production of Ryan Murphy's "The Prom" was enough to scramble my senses that I wasn't sure what I was witnessing. I sat down and turned on "The Prom" thinking it was a musical about the undertaking of putting together a prom. Then Meryl Streep and James Corden appear and for an instant serious dramatic shades began to fall until they jumped into one of the most obnoxious show tunes to open a film and I had to scramble to get my footing. During this opening I had serious misgivings about my endeavor. And then the dust settled and the purpose of "The Prom" became clear.
Dee Dee Allen (Ms. Streep) is the Broadway diva, a recipient of two Tony awards who makes sure everyone knows about it, and Barry Glickman (Mr. Corden) Ms. Allen's co-star and fellow egomaniac are celebrating their opening night. Convinced they have a hit and pedestal of which they can spread their greatness they are ready to conquer the Broadway world until they are shot down by a New York Times review that disagrees. The glamour, party and good vibes evaporate and they're left with what to do next. They come up with a charitable cause. One big enough to erase their tag of failure. A fellow actor, Angie (Nicole Kidman, completely underused) who has stuck around to wallow in their misery discovers a student, Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman) who is barred from attending her prom in Indiana because she's come out as gay and wants to bring her girlfriend. They, along with the bartender (Andrew Rannells, pitch perfect) who promises to get Steven Sondheim to write them an anthem for the cause since Sondheim loves his interpretation of his character in a Sondheim play he just finished touring in, set out for Indiana to repair their reputations and maybe the life of a Indiana girl as well.
For then on out the film, based on the Broadway play of the same name by Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin and Matthew Sklar, is a satire in the name of equal rights for the LGBTQ community. And it's enjoyable. The fun they had making it pours out and pulls you along with it. It helps to be a fan of Broadway since there are some inside jokes. Most of the characters are stereo types but lavishly portrayed with stimulating dance sequences to keep us distracted. The film goes along fully transparent about its tongue and cheek ambitions and doesn't take itself or Broadway stardom seriously. But it does make a turn toward the dramatic and its a welcomed turn.
The film contains some deep emotional pockets that are surprising when they hit. The story of Emma and how the whole exhibition threatens the relationship with her girlfriend, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) is touching and shows how affecting and damaging it is when individuals are singled out with hate because of who they are. Mr. Corden's character is forced to confront the mother who turned him out of the house because he was gay. These change of paces are dramatic shifts. But they give the film a human depth that adds to its potency.
Ms. Pellman is the anchor here. She makes Emma into a typical sweet teenager who only wants to experience the excitement and rite of passage that comes with a first love. She is swept up in the Broadway performers' cause but is mature enough to break from them when things get out of control to handle things herself. Ms. Pellman is skillful at portraying Emma's decency and landing her emotional reactions. The drama of the film rests on whether or not Emma and Alyssa's romance will make it through the controversies. Ms. Pellman's performance is the reason why we care and she creates a spark with Ms. DeBose that's the glue to the whole film. Their chemistry makes their story worth investing in. Ms. DeBose is wonderful balancing two worlds; the one where she's the popular cheerleader who assimilates inside a heterosexual world and the other as someone who yearns but is fearful of exposing her love.
Watching "The Prom" I thought this was Mr. Murphy's chance at knocking off one commitment from his massive Netflix deal while making a very loud statement about inclusion. But I hadn't realized it was a remake of a Broadway musical. Which is a slip on my part since I worked with "The Prom"'s posters staring me while I worked in Shubert Alley during its run. I can't say whether the producers of the play were able to create the same emotional impact as Mr. Murphy does in the film. But here it works and uplifts an otherwise light, although funny, production to a respectable level. "The Prom" was turned on a second time in my house for a member who missed the first viewing and I was surprised to feel a bit more welcoming of the opening act. I enjoyed it the second time which is a sign this film has legs and not just in the musical productions.