Earlier this month a little musical premiered on Netflix going by the name of The Prom. You might have heard of it maybe? Obviously coverage of that adaptation has been wide spread which is one of the reasons I've left my review of it so late despite watching it the weekend it premiered. The film provoked some complicated reactions and emotions in me so I've given myself time to process them before writing this. And here we are!
The Prom is a musical that premiered in 2016 and made its way to Broadway in 2018. The show generated a lot of buzz in the musical theatre community and was at the top of my list to see on my next Broadway visit... and then it closed. Surviving less than a year on Broadway, it felt like I would never be able to see this. Then Ryan Murphy came swooping in announcing an adaptation and suddenly I wondered would it be amazing like most of Ryan Murphy shows or would it be awful... like most of Ryan Murphys shows.
The Prom is the story of Emma, a teenage girl who wants to go to Prom with her girlfriend but is met with resistance from the Parent-Teacher Association. This leads to a group of actors from a failed Broadway musical to take it upon themselves to save the day and ensure The prom must go on. Straight away, you draw similarities to Everybody's Talking About Jamie - the story of a teenage boy who wants to go to his Prom in drag. Like that show, The Prom refreshingly isn't a coming out story about Emma - she is out and proud in school. Things like that may seem minor to some people but having main LGBTQ+ characters whose story is more than just their coming out is so important in a time where it is critical we normalise sexuality if we ever want to achieve true equality. But I digress...
Emma's girlfriend Alyssa does face the more classic narrative of being in the closet and not ready to come out just yet. My understanding is in the Broadway show, these two form the heart of the show, but in true Hollywood fashion, they have been pushed aside for a host of A-listers playing the failed Broadway stars... which brings me neatly on to casting.
So let's get it out of the way and talk about the elephant in the room. Step forward James Corden. Confession time - I loathe James Corden. He has used "I'm gay lol not really" as a punchline far too often in his career and let's not forget this is the same man who chose to air a gay slur on primetime Christmas Day television just last year. But it's comedy, right? So choosing him to play a gay man really doesn't sit well with me and so many others. One comment defending him on a musical theatre group that I can't get out of my brain is "James Corden is a gay man in a straight man's body". I don't even know where to begin with that one. My problem isn't with a straight man playing a gay man in a show. There have been some incredible portrayals of gay men from straight actors through the years - and my issue is if we insist only gay people can play gay characters on TV and films, that means really we shouldn't allow gay men to play straight characters. And this is where it comes back to that whole equality thing I mentioned earlier. My problem is that James Corden isn't an LGBTQ+ ally and has actually done more damage to the community so should not have been given this role.
HOWEVER, and this is where the review takes an unexpected turn like one of Ryan Murphys shows which starts off well and then makes you want to bang your head against a wall longing for it to be over (Keep reading, it won't get that bad) - I didn't actually hate James Corden in the role. Corden is a capable actor, not amazing, but he does the job. I think he did an ok job in this film but I put that down to him playing a well-written character. Some scenes I felt would have been better had he been able to use a bit more authenticity... or even just been a better actor, but he was passable. While I was ready to throw bricks at the TV every time he appeared in the movie, I managed to compromise and only throw tomatoes instead.
So let's move on to better casting. The legendary Meryl Streep plays Broadway legend Dee Dee Allen and is absolutely flawless. Channeling her best Patti LuPone, Streep is incredible in the role. Giving us a mix of diva, vulnerability and one of the funniest moments in the film with the immortal line "You owe me a house". She also showcases an impressive voice too, much more tuneful than her turn in 'Mamma Mia' though whether she had any assistance with that, I do not know. Fellow Hollywood A-lister Nicole Kidman has the time of her life as chorus girl Angie, an unlikely best friend to the teenage Emma. Her ambition and heart make her a fantastic character, played brilliantly.
Lending a touch of authenticity is Broadway star Andrew Rannells who thrives as in between work actor Trent. Rannells is an amazing actor who seems to be becoming more of a household name, which is only a good thing. He steals the whole movie with his phenomenal performance of standout song 'Love Thy Neighbour'. Another Broadway performer making herself known in a big way is Ariana DeBose - having had people dissect what wasn't even a main role in the recent filmed version of Hamilton, she is soon to be seen in next years West Side Story and is an absolute delight as Alyssa. Newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman has what should be the lead role as Emma, who does a fantastic job of holding her own while sharing a scene with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
The songs in the movie vary from average to amazing. As previously mentioned 'Love Thy Neighbour' is a standout moment, 'Zazz' is truly iconic, Streep shines on a brilliant 'The Lady's Improving' and Emma's solo 'Tonight Belongs To You' is stunning. The songs lend themselves well to repeat listening and should sit well in any musical theatre fans collection. The show is also littered with musical theatre references so if you're as big a fan as I am, you're going to be in your element.
The film ultimately is about acceptance. Accepting yourself for who you truly are and accepting others even if you may not understand or even agree with what they believe in and how they choose to live their lives. A theme like that has the danger of being cheesy, preachy or inauthentic but miraculously it never manages to cross those lines. Instead, we are left with a truly heartwarming and beautiful story that I'm not ashamed to say reduced me to a blubbering mess by the end.
I had one big problem with this movie as already mentioned, but it wasn't enough to dampen my enjoyment of it. Had I seen it on stage, I may have said this pales in comparison to that but as this was my first experience of The Prom, I absolutely adored it. Yes, I wish Emma's story hadn't been sidelined so much, but ultimately her story was given the respect and gravitas it deserves... even if she had to stand aside for some of it.
After a difficult year, a bit of joy and tolerance is exactly what the world needs. My hope is that now this film is out there for all to see, it will lead to more young people coming to terms with their identity being able to accept themselves easier than previous generations (speaking from experience here) and that others who may not understand it can be more accepting of them quicker.
The film carries the message of love thy neighbour and this is something we should all be aiming to do. I vow to love thy neighbour... as long as it isn't James Corden that is.
The Prom is available to stream on Netflix now.