Everyone deserves a chance to celebrate.
I’m a big fan of musicals. Most people who know me know that. I heard about The Prom a few years ago during the Tony season and the performance during the Macy’s Thanksgiving’s Day Parade. So I found the soundtrack and kinda sorta started learning the music. However, I wasn’t won over by it just from the soundtrack. Let’s see what I thought of the movie.
If you’ve never heard of this musical/movie, basically you have four mostly washed-up Broadway actors (Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, and Andrew Rannells) who can’t hold a steady job looking for a good PR stunt. They see on Twitter that a girl in Indiana (Jo Ellen Pellman) is fighting to be allowed to bring her girlfriend to prom. They decide to swoop in and join the fight.
This is a star-studded cast, if you missed that. We’ve got the four big ones I previously mentioned, along with Kerry Washington, who plays the president of the PTA who are telling Emma that she can’t bring her girlfriend to prom, and Keegan-Michael Key, who plays the school principal who is trying to help Emma. There’s also a small part played by Tracey Ullman, which was kind of a weird bit. Oh, and Emma’s girlfriend is played by Ariana DeBose, who played The Bullet in Hamilton.
Ok, let me get out of the way the biggest thing that bothers me about this musical: they really think very little of people from Indiana. I mean, this is my home state. They have lines like, “We’re going down to where the necks are red and lack of dentistry thrives…[those] cousin-humping, cow-tipping…losers and their inbred wives.” Like…wow. This was really off-putting when I was simply listening to the soundtrack. This is kind of a constant theme in the first act. (Honestly, setting this in Indiana was really confusing for me, since the whole thing is apparently based on something that happened in Mississippi. But I have a theory that it was being written while Indiana was going through the RFRA crisis under then-governor Mike Pence, and let’s just say that was a massive black eye for the state.)
But as I watched the movie…I kind of came to understand it more. The lines I mentioned come from the four out-of-touch actors. We watch them arrive in Indiana and become the biggest fish out of water you’ve ever seen. They just have no concept of what the Midwest is like (despite at least two of them growing up in Pennsylvania and Ohio?). So we basically learn that these are the stereotypes they think they know about Indiana and they learn from that the longer they’re there. The only character I allow to bash Indiana is Emma, who is not being accepted by anyone and is really struggling.
Oh gosh, I got on a tangent there. Ok, let’s talk about the story and the acting.
The story: I think the concept pretty cool and relevant. Emma really just wants to find acceptance. She just wants to go to the prom like everyone else, but when the PTA finds out she wants to bring a girl as her date, they cancel prom altogether. Emma’s story is, sadly, not unique. Throwing in a bunch of flamboyant, exuberant Broadway actors is a new twist and it brings a lot of new personalities to the story. They have very interesting personalities that invigorate the story. However, the energy does dip a little in the middle. There are some scenes that I think maybe make more sense on stage than they do in the movie. Like there’s this budding friendship/romance between Dee Dee Allen (Streep) and Tom (Key). (In case you were wondering, she’s 22 years older than him. I was curious.) I just thought the whole thing played weirdly in a movie about a girl trying to go to prom.
The acting: The lead girls, Pellman and DeBose, were excellent. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. They were fantastic. It’s ironically the stars who sometimes struggled–and I like all of them individually. Nicole Kidman’s Angie is kind of boring and doesn’t bring much to the story. Her one individual number–“Zazz”–is a snooze. Andrew Rannells does pull off his role well, a character who’s meant to be obnoxious. Streep is obviously a great actress and she sounded pretty good in this as well, it’s just that some scenes felt out of place. She’s also another character meant to be over the top and annoying.
But let’s talk about James Corden. Look, the guy shows up in just about every musical adaptation. Part of that is because he really is a gifted singer and actor, but now I feel like he’s getting these jobs because of his name. He plays Barry, a flamboyantly gay narcissistic actor. I thought Corden brought a lot of heart to the movie. However, he’s gotten a lot of backlash for being a straight man in a gay role, and I get that. I feel like it could have had even more heart if the actor had also struggled with the same things Barry does. But he gets a lot of flack for playing into gay stereotypes and yeah, that sucks, but I have to wonder how much of that is how the character is written? How much of that is really Corden’s interpretation? I can’t answer that.
It’s an upbeat, poppy musical with a lot of fun personalities and some real heart at its core. It reminds me of Hairspray, honestly. I was looking for a musical that would be cute and easy to watch, and that’s what I got. Don’t take it too seriously and you’ll probably enjoy it.