Hats off to Ryan Murphy: the man is always contradictory. A few weeks later Pawl hit Netflix, its adaptation of the 2018 Broadway musical Prom arrives on the puffy platform in a technicolor version of the same venerable high school nostalgia as Joy, and riddled with the same condescension towards “average” people that has so defined its production, Nip / Tuck at The politician. Murphy’s penchant for tearing down the walls surrounding certain American institutions and making them accessible to all has never been particularly nuanced, and he directs Prom with the same frankness. The film’s ultimate admiration for fame is only vaguely tolerable because its concomitant message of inclusiveness is theoretically admirable – but does it have to be delivered by people like a completely exhausting and hopelessly self-satisfied James Corden?
The event that inspired the musical Prom, which ran like a Broadway musical from November 2018 to August 2019 and was supposed to start a nationwide tour next year before COVID-19 changes our way of life, has become a sufficient national news story for his own Wikipedia page: The “Itawamba County School District 2010 Prom Controversy”. Mississippi high school student Constance McMillen’s desire to bring his girlfriend to the prom was met by a hostile school board who called off the ball after the ACLU got involved. The situation dragged on for weeks, and discussing in too much detail the subsequent actions of sectarian parents and student harassment would reveal many twists and turns. Prom, which to some extent follows what actually happened to McMillen. Murphy, in turn, adapts the play fairly tightly, bringing in Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin (who worked on the play’s lyrics and book) as screenwriters.
Prom introduces McMillen’s analogue Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman) in an opening scene that makes it clear what she’s up against. In Edgewater, Indiana, the PTA meeting chaired by Ms. Greene (Kerry Washington, continuing her Small fires everywhere turn with another counter-type role), during which parents choose to call off the ball instead of exposing their precious children to their classmate who happens to be a lesbian, is a veritable pit of despair. “We have no choice,” Ms. Greene said sarcastically. then Prom Heads us to New York City, where Tony’s two-time winner Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and lifelong runner-up Barry Glickman (James Corden) are shocked that their new musical about Eleanor Roosevelt is met with negative reviews. “I put on this wig and these dentures and I know I’m changing lives,” Dee Dee told a red carpet reporter, and that arrogance is what convinces Dee Dee, Barry, unlucky actor. Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells), and unemployed Chicago backing vocalist Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman) to seize Emma’s tale as an opportunity and walk arm-in-arm down a heavily CGI-ed Broadway to celebrate their philanthropic spirit.
The downside, they decide, is to “appear to be decent human beings” by traveling to Central America and injecting yourself into Emma’s fight against the PTA. Each of the four, who identify themselves differently as gay or, as Dee Dee puts it, as “gay-positive,” has their own motivations. Trent appears in a traveling show that will pass through Indiana. Angie is really moved by Emma’s story. Barry recalls his own traumatic experience with the prom and wants to give Emma the night he didn’t have. Dee Dee sees a way to strengthen her brand and grab a third Tony. And so they all rush into Edgewater (which is sometimes shown as rustically tiny and sometimes as tall to support a gigantic shopping center and country club), proudly declare themselves liberal elites in a “hick town” and line up with Emma and her. senior school ally Mr. Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key). “We’re going to help this little lesbian whether she likes it or not!” is their rallying cry. Of course, because Prom is a fantasy, there is no real chance of “or not”.
Emma immediately befriends these four adults, accompanying their camping antics and performative advice. Does Emma really have an interest in theater? Not clear! But in typical musical fashion, the lines between reality and the stage are constantly blurred, resulting in moments that range from pleasantly brave to deeply tortuous.
Emma’s debut issue, “Just Breathe,” sung as she walks through her high school and observes “Note to Self: People suck in Indiana,” is an opportunity for Pellman to come under the banner. the limelight. As an actress, it’s a winning find whose seriousness reinforces Prom – she shines in virtually every couple, especially when paired with Kidman for “Zazz”. Kidman’s Angie, who has aspired to play Roxie Hart for years without success, gives Pellman’s Emma attitude advice with a range of high kicks. And Pellman has a great chemistry with his classmate Alyssa (Ariana DeBose), a straight student, debate team champion and cheerleader who hides her own secret; their duo “Dance With You” evokes a certain revolutionary romance that Murphy delivered Joy.
But the problem with the exuberance of the cast – Streep delves into Dee Dee’s alluring vibe with Key’s Mr. Hawkins; Rannells clearly relishes the frequency with which Trent selfishly mentions his past training at Juilliard – how much paper mache is on many of the film’s weird technical choices (why so many floating cameras?) And the narrative shortcuts to the script. Most confusing are the film’s contrasting messages about individual happiness and community acceptance. For the majority, Prom wants to assert viewers their moral correctness by insulting the pervasiveness of stubborn cruelty and mocking the fervor with which people cling to misguided stereotypes. So many of the Broadway actors’ songs fit into this perspective and, to be honest, are some of the best performances in the movie. (Rannells’ “Love Thy Neighbor,” in which he berates Emma’s classmates for their Christianity-excused hypocrisy in the city mall, chasing them up and down the escalator and starting a routine of dancing near the central mall fountain, is satisfactorily sarcastic.) But Prom pivots in its final third – did I mention this movie is 133 minutes ?! – in an ordered parable of forgiveness, a sickening narrative turn that begs us to pity James Corden, which I can’t and won’t do.
Some elements of Prom can be forgiven if you define the musical as a fantasy, and if you can accept the superficiality of its happy ending, and if you get carried away by the enthusiasm of Streep, Kidman and Key, and if you can empathize with Emma from Pellman and the simplicity of his desire to share a dance with his crush despite intolerant bullies putting scissor teddy bears in his locker. But Corden is the distraction that derails every scene he’s in, and unfortunately for us he’s in a lot of them. It never feels like Corden is actually to become Barry Glickman, but rather as if he was doing a Late show bit. Besides a southern accent that comes and goes, he plays a gay character without giving off believable sexual energy; has no spark with Streep’s Dee Dee, who inexplicably turns from professional rival to close friend; and brings a noticeable rudeness to moments that require intense emotion. This last shortcoming is the most damaging, and ensures that neither Barry’s investment in bringing Emma to prom nor his decision to reconnect with people from her past leaves much of an impression. There are too many Cordens to ignore Prom, but there’s not much to like.
“You taught me how much people appreciate a show,” Emma tells Dee Dee, Barry, Angie and Trent, and it describes Prom global. Hidden away by neon lights, sparkling sequins, and A-list actors ready to indulge in Murphy’s hijinks is another project that can’t decide between sincerity and contempt, and one that will ultimately leave you unsatisfied.