Directed by: Ryan Murphy
Premise: An adaptation of the stage musical. An Indiana high school cancels its prom when a lesbian student (Jo Ellen Pellman) intends to attend the dance with another woman as her date. A group of down-on-their-luck Broadway actors insert themselves into the controversy.
What Works: The Prom is a successful adaptation of a stage musical. The film retains the qualities of musical theater but makes the material cinematic. The song and dance numbers are impressively staged with the choreography matched by elaborate camera work. The filmmakers frame the action of the musical sequences to highlight their meaning and The Prom includes some interesting lighting choices, adopting lighting cues of stage shows and using them to transition in and out of musical numbers. The Prom is a likable movie and quite funny although more so in the first half. The Broadway actors, played by Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, and Andrew Rannells, are narcissists adopting a social cause for their own ends. The Prom plays this up and cleverly satirizes the way celebrity activism rarely helps and frequently makes matters worse. The filmmakers show good judgement, knowing when to play up the satire and when to play it straight. The story of this high school student is quite serious and actress Jo Ellen Pellman makes an impression as the high school student thrust into the spotlight. Pellman is empathetic and vulnerable and her presence commands our attention even when the focus of the film slips toward her more famous co-stars.
What Doesn’t: There is a tension in The Prom’s political themes. It is self-consciously about coastal liberals making asses of themselves by narcissistically adopting a social cause and lecturing Midwestern citizens about tolerance. But the film frequently feels as though it suffers from that same character flaw. The story’s premise assumes that homophobia and intolerance are uniquely Midwestern problems. Of course they’re not and this assumption betrays a condescension that underlines the movie. The filmmakers seems as bemused as their Broadway characters by Midwestern middle and working class norms while taking no interest in those people. The Prom is intended to be feel-good entertainment that affirms inclusion and diversity. It does that but in an effort to be uplifting, the filmmakers diminish the complexities of conquering homophobia. Achieving progress and letting go of regressive beliefs are not easy but that’s not the way it’s depicted in The Prom. The filmmakers simplify complex subject matter in a way that diminishes the drama and is disconnected from reality.
DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: The Prom is a pleasant musical film. Its message about inclusion is well intended although it sometimes comes across smug and condescending. But despite its flaws, the picture ultimately works as a feel-good musical comedy.
Episode: #831 (December 20, 2020)