WORTH A LOOK?: ****
‘Listen you bigoted monsters, just who do you think you are? Your prejudice and your repression won’t get past this Broadway star,’ sings Meryl Streep (pictured centre above) as two-time Tony Award winner Dee Dee Allen on a high school visit to champion a lesbian student unable to take her girlfriend to the prom.
- Read on for reasons including how there are some 5* moments here to savour
Based on real-life events this Netflix musical comedy is at its hilarious best when it is pricking the pomposity of the down-on-their-luck Broadway community seeking to boost their own fading popularity by backing a fashionable cause.
West Ham fan, US late-night chat show host and Gavin and Stacey co-author James Corden has had an extraordinary career even without listing his musical theatre success. But it was the critical reaction to his performance in this Ryan Murphy Netflix film that initially put us off from watching it.
We pretty much love everything Corden does, although don’t watch his Sky sport shows, and he’s essentially channelling Drag Race US judge Ross Matthew here. It’s stuck in the throat of some reviewers because Corden is straight. But do you have to be gay to play gay?
While Corden’s portrayal is camp and overblown is it a problem that some might not view it as entirely positive? Surely the gay community’s strength should be celebrating its diversity rather than clamping down on portrayals that aren’t entirely as it would like? It’s actually entirely in keeping with the film’s attitude to Broadway, boasting overenthusiastic Eurovision-like entries with numbers like The Acceptance Song where Andrew Rannells’ unappreciated actor sings with tongue firmly in cheek: ‘Bigotry’s not big of me and it’s not big of you. Let’s all work together to make rainbow dreams come true.’
After a rip-roaring opening which establishes the premise and tone, The Prom does lose its way a little failing to dig deeper with its central character and why she has problems at all. Its efforts to skewer the homophobia it parodies also feel a little underserved.
However, Keegan Michael-Key’s principal has an interesting story arc and his number We Look To You gives a refreshing fan perspective on the merits of Broadway: ‘My days have little glamour … that’s why I love the theatre it’s how I escape. An escape helps you heal. We look to you to take us away from the soul-crushing jobs and emasculating pay. When our lives come up short and our hopes are sad and few you whisk us off to some place strange and new. … Next time you think no one cares you can look to me.’
Murphy is in prolific form with The Boys In The Band, 1 of our Films Of The Year, already under his belt. The Prom is essentially a feature-length Glee The Movie we-never-had with a different cast, that is even more LGBTQ+ friendly but with original songs.
Nicole Kidman doesn’t feature much but does get to rip it up once with Bob Fosse-inspired, Chicago-style number Zazz. Streep is better served and her character arc is well defined with the highlight It’s Not About Me serving up such further zingers as ‘I read three-quarters of a news story and knew I had to come’, ‘Stealing the rights of a girl who is an LGBTQ teen. I’ve been far too angry to Google just what those letters mean’, ‘Use hashtag Dee Dee takes local yokels by storm’ and ‘Could I get softer lighting? Wait, no this is not about me.’
By the time the conclusion’s neared the mood is effortlessly joyous and essentially seize-the-day helped in no small part by song Tonight Belongs To Us, sample lyric: ‘One thing’s universal, life’s no dress rehearsal. Excuse me while I state the obvious. Go big or you’ve blown it. It’s time that you own it. And let’s make it clear that tonight belongs to us.’
We’ve only seen the film once (and may well do so again) but for us the thrill of the project is found in the soundtrack album which we’ve been playing on repeat since.
The Broadway musical the film is based on was not profitable which may go some way to explaining the pervading sense of fun rather than expectation that this is high art to be appreciated rather than enjoyed.
By the film’s close we guarantee you’ll be willing the cast on to ‘Build a Prom’ as you get caught up in the joy of it all if you can stop yourself dwelling on the rights of wrongs of Corden’s performance and the script’s shortcomings.