The Prom (2020) Review

The arrival of Ryan Murphy’s The Prom couldn’t be more timely enough, which can be streamed on Netflix beginning December 11 onwards. Besides, it’s the kind of a feel-good musical that the world needs more than ever, especially given the seemingly endless COVID-19 pandemic around the world.

The only huge difference is the underlying theme of the same-sex relationship, which might not sit well with the more conservative-minded viewers. Just like the 2018 Broadway hit of the same time where this film is based from, the movie follows a gay teenager Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), whose decision of bringing her closeted girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) to the upcoming high-school prom caused a stir within the community. While her principal Mr Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key) has no objection about Emma’s sexual orientation, the head of PTA Mrs Greene (Kerry Washington) feels otherwise. Right to the point where she decided to cancel the prom altogether.

Meanwhile, in New York City, two acclaimed Broadway stars Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Corden) suffered a huge career dip following their badly-received Eleanor! musical. In a desperate attempt to restore their public images, they manage to come across trending news about the controversy surrounding Emma and the high-school prom in Indiana that got cancelled. Figuring this would be the best way for generating positive publicity, Dee Dee along with Barry as well as struggling actor Trent (Andrew Rannells) and chorus girl Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman) decide to support Emma’s cause.

Ryan Murphy is no stranger to handling musical genre, given his extensive experience as a veteran showrunner for the popular Glee series. From the high-spirited opening numbers of “Changing Lives” to the uplifting “Tonight Belongs to You” (my personal favourite of mine), the song-and-dance sequences are top-notch. Even the individual numbers, namely the Bob Fosse-inspired jazz solo from Nicole Kidman singing “Zazz” have its own showstopping moments.

(L-R) James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells and Meryl Streep in Netflix's "The Prom" (2020)

The ensemble cast is a mixed bag, with both Meryl Streep’s diva-like portrayal of Dee Dee Allen and relative newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman, deliver worthwhile performances. Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells are mostly relegated to supporting roles that only shine in certain moments. James Corden’s Barry Glickman lacks the necessary depth and subtlety for his role as a gay entertainer with a sad childhood past. The movie does address his backstory, only to be glossed over in a superficial manner possible.

Kelly Washington and Keegan-Michael Key, in the meantime, give decent supports as the strict PTA head, Mrs Greene and compassionate high-school principal, Hawkins. Ariana DeBose, who plays Mrs Greene’s closeted lesbian-daughter Alyssa, deserves equal mention with her emotionally vulnerable performance. She and Jo Ellen Pellman do make an excellent couple. It’s just that their otherwise great chemistry is largely sidelined to make way for the big-name actors instead. If only Murphy along with Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin’s adapted screenplay focus more on the emotional journey and hardships between Emma and Alyssa, it would have been a potentially better result.

As for the story, it has its few moments that covered the likes of a well-meaning message about acceptance. But it could have used a tighter pace, with the 130-minute length tends to lag behind with some unnecessarily overlong scenes.

The Prom may miss its opportunity for turning this into a great and timely piece of a feel-good musical for the modern generation. Still, looking at the overall result, Ryan Murphy’s starry musical remains fun and enjoyable.

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