Netflix Review: The Prom (2020)

Directed by: Ryan Murphy. Starring: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman. Runtime: 2h 10 min.

This review includes mild spoilers.

Ryan Murphy, showrunner of American Horror Story, revisits some of his Glee roots by directing The Prom, a movie adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. The story features a troupe of self-obsessed theater stars wanting to find a cause to make themselves feel better. They settle on a small conservative town in Indiana in support of a high school girl, Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom.

There’s a lot of pluses to this film, including the strong performance from newcomer Pellman and her performance of the very catchy tune “Just Breathe” (the opening hook “Note to self, don’t be gay in Indiana” is still stuck in my head more than a month after watching this). Andrew Rannells as part of this troupe from Broadway is another plus as a giant scene-stealer, especially the musical number in the mall. He virtually makes the film better when he’s on-screen and there’s not nearly enough of him.

It makes me wish even more that he would have swapped roles with James Corden, as Corden’s stereotypical portrayal of Barry Glickman – featuring every flamboyant and stereotypical aspect of a gay man – is a terrible miscast. He hits some of the emotional notes, but the casting distracts. Nicole Kidman as Angie Dickinson hits her scenes with her character’s compassion, and her “Zazz” musical number with Emma is a good scene in their chemistry, even if this one’s a bit long.

Meryl Streep is a treasure but I found her character, Dee Dee Allen, annoying for the most part even though her ego is very much the point here. Some scenes flirting with Keegan Michael Key’s Principal Tom Hawkins are fine, and the whole dynamic there of him being a fan boy and crushing on a huge Broadway star is fun.

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Meryl Streep as Dee Dee Allen and James Corden as Barry Glickman in The Prom. (Credit Melinda Sue Gordon/NETFLIX © 2020).

Truthfully, I was invested for the first hour of the film until the bigotry was dialed up even higher when Kerry Washington’s evil, over-the-top PTA representative Mrs. Greene told Emma the wrong location to the prom to humiliate her. This scene is a sinking feeling and you feel everything Emma is going through and I think that’s what makes Pellman’s performance so strong, however, this turning point prom scene comes about 70 minutes into the film and there’s still an hour left. It should have happened way sooner.

If this were a 90-minute romp I would have enjoyed it more; but instead it’s 130 minutes and by the time she gets her heartbroken by this and other students hiding the prom from her, I never thought it was going to ever end. I’m all for over-the-top musical numbers, but after the 80-minute mark I groaned at every musical number that went past three minutes. That aforementioned mall scene with Rannells at least offered some reprieve.

Though, I have to give kudos here to screenwriting team Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, who adapt their own Broadway musical (additional writing credits to Matthew Sklar for the musical as well as Jack Viertel for original concept) for staying true to their vision and giving every single character an arc and completing that arc. However, after that mid-point prom scene, it’s fittingly all about the self-centered Broadway stars. There’s virtually 20 minutes in the second half of this film where Emma has no screen time.

I was mostly able to tolerate these stars when Emma was grounding the bulk of the story. Truthfully the Broadway stars are the main characters because it’s about them trying to become less conceited, but when it’s just focused on them it borders on insufferable. I lost interest because I was the most invested in Emma’s story. They overshadow her too much and that takes away from her story, which I really found to be the true heart of the film. I got antsy waiting for them to complete Emma’s arc as they focused on the other characters that I had already lost interest by the time they got back to her story.

Score: 50/100

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