Released: 11th December
Seen: 11th December
The story of Constance McMillen’s 2010 prom is truly something. Constance had plans on going to the prom with her girlfriend while wearing a tux, something that’s completely harmless in every possible way… unfortunately, her school board consisted of massive pieces of excrement and they decided to ban her from the prom. Like any good member of the LGBT community that knows their history, she fought this ban on the grounds that it was stupid and bigoted so the school board did what anyone with no brain would do. They cancelled the prom.
Now, Constance took this to court and won but the judge wouldn’t reinstate the prom, so it fell on some well-meaning celebrities to rally behind Constance and raise money for a new prom that Constance and her girlfriend could attend. This story became the foundation for the Tony nominated musical The Prom, which has been adapted into a film by Ryan Murphy who I am normally an apologist for but… well, let’s get into this.
The Prom follows four Broadway actors, Barry Glickman (James Corden), Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep), Angie Dickenson (Nicole Kidman) and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells). They’re all at a low point in their careers with a lot of bad publicity to deal with so they go looking for a pet project that they can use to boost their careers. They happen upon the story of Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman) who has just had her prom cancelled by the PTA’s villainous leader Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington) because Emma is openly gay and intending to go with her girlfriend. The four actors decide that it’s their duty to go to Indiana and save the prom for this young girl, and on the way hopefully teach a little lesson about not being a bigoted bag of douche.
While I wish that the story spent a little more time focusing on Emma than the four actors, I get that this is just what they did with the stage show and therefore can accept the choice. For the most part it’s actually kind of fun, a satirical jab at celebrities who try too hard to be loved with pathetic PR (you could totally see these four people turning up in a video singing Imagine and thinking it was a good idea) and often the jabs do land well. Anything with Dee Dee Allen trying to understand why people view her as selfish is hilarious and fun, though that is mostly because Meryl Streep is the icon that she is for a goddamn reason. Give her a piece of material, she’ll make it sing.
They also do a really good job of making sure that the intolerance of the town isn’t just brushed aside, they confront the actual roots of the problem and call it out for what it is. No kid gloves, they call the bigots bigoted and don’t bother pretending they have a good reason for it. In fact, the musical number Love Thy Neighbour might be one of the best parts of this entire musical because it just lays out all the hypocrisy behind the religious excuses for homophobia, and also because when you give Andrew Rannells a musical number he’s going to own it.
The relationship between Emma and the celebrities is also genuinely cute, especially the scenes where Emma and Angie are just having a little talk and doing pseudo Bob Fosse dance routines. You can see a real joyful friendship there, but then again that’s mostly because Nicole Kidman is a treasure with so much charm that anyone lucky enough to share a scene with her is automatically boosted by Nicole’s energy which she exudes even when she’s not the focus of a scene. Seriously, just watch what she’s doing when she’s not the focus, she’s clearly having a ball.
And also James Corden is here… because apparently he didn’t get the memo that everyone involved with Cats is banned from being in musicals for at least 10 years. You want to know where this musical falters, it’s in the casting of James Corden. I could try to come up with a fun comedic way to describe how I feel about his performance as a gay man (which is basically Jack McFarland but without the comic timing or believability) but the movie itself has the perfect description that I will just slightly alter to fit my purposes… “James Corden’s Barry Glickman might be the most insultingly misguided, offensive and laughable performance that this reviewer has ever had the squirming misfortune to endure”.
Look, I’m one of the few people who is genuinely fine with straight actors playing gay (see my endless eternal screaming praise of Taron Egerton in Rocketman to back that up) but I have my limits and Corden appears to be it. I found myself actively cringing whenever he would walk across the screen, I haven’t seen that much mincing since Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served?! It’s the kind of performance I expected in the 90s from a straight actor wanting to play gay, not in 2020 in a film about acceptance of gay people. Also, Corden’s nowhere near the singer or actor that the other three are so he’s actively weighing the film down. Why they didn’t just call Nathan Lane for this part, I have no idea.
What also doesn’t help is that The Prom is shot so blandly. The camera moves don’t really work, the flashbacks are cute but inconsistent and the staging of the musical numbers ends up hiding a lot of the choreography. If you ever watched Glee you will be familiar with this style of filming everything with a constantly moving camera that spends more time on faces than dance moves… which makes sense when you’re doing a TV series and shooting five musical numbers every week, but not when you’re shooting a movie and have about 3 months to film. You have the time Ryan, you could maybe do a few more takes and get some better angles or… I don’t know, anything but have the poor Steadicam operator just run through the dancers and try not to hit them.
Throw in that The Prom‘s idea of stylisation is a bright blue or purple light and it’s just not visually interesting. Normally I love a good bold lighting choice, but when it’s the only way you have to distinguish between what’s actually happening and the fantasy musical sequences then it’s kind of bad. Come on, this is a musical… a big flashy fairy floss flavoured musical where you could do something big and fun with every musical number. As it is, the best numbers are Love Thy Neighbour (Mostly because Rannells is born for this genre), It’s Not About Me (Mostly because Streep has decided to eat the scenery and I live for that) and Zazz (Mostly because Kidman’s legs are longer than my life expectancy).
This isn’t to say The Prom itself is bad, it’s still mostly enjoyable as a light piece of fluff with some good numbers and a good message. The supporting cast is genuinely great and I can’t act like I didn’t enjoy most of the proceedings, but that’s because the three leads who are actually worth talking about are so good that they basically drag you through to the end. Hell if you have a better tolerance for the obviously fake flamboyant gay performance than I do, you might even love this film. I can’t say it’s not worth watching, it’s a good musical with a good cast… but it could’ve and should’ve been so much better. It’s fine, but maybe we’d all be better off if Broadway just filmed it’s shows and released them like Hamilton instead.