Very few if any schools in the United States were able to have a prom this past spring, which can often be one of the highlights for graduating seniors. Although not for everyone, the prom should be a place for anyone to enjoy a special night with their date as a climax to the school year.
Even if all the high schools could have held their proms, I doubt any of them would have been as ridiculously campy and stylized as the film by Ryan Murphy now on Netflix. Based on the hit Broadway musical from 2018, “The Prom” is a comedy musical about, you guessed it, a prom.
This is my third review of a Murphy production on Netflix this year following his miniseries “Hollywood” in May and thriller TV series “Ratched” in September. So as not to repeat too much, Murphy is best known for his shows “American Horror Story” and “Glee” and he is one of the busiest creators in Hollywood, so it’s surprising to see him do a mainstream movie like this.
While his Murphy-isms are all over this production, it doesn’t take much to make a Broadway musical about the prom full of glitz and glamour and jazz hands. Even if the script itself is fairly weak, “The Prom” is overall well crafted and is nice to look at and listen to for a couple hours.
In a conservative Indiana town, the high school PTA cancels the prom in order to stop lesbian student Emma from bringing her girlfriend as her date. When the story comes to the attention of four down-on-their-luck Broadway stars (played by Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells), they decide to make the trip to Indiana and rally behind the teens.
Although she has the support of the high school principal (Keegan-Michael Key), Emma’s secret girlfriend’s mom (Kerry Washington) is the president of the PTA and will stop at nothing to stop the prom from happening.
As the Broadway stars arrive in town and begin to attempt changing minds and hearts, Emma’s life story and her decision to be herself inspires the adults to reexamine their own lives, look into their pasts and come to accept who they are and meant to be.
While its heart is in the right place, the execution of this story is not only overt and heavy-handed in its message but it’s not very funny for what is supposed to be a comedy. The script is written by two of the same writers of the stage show’s book and is only two years old, but more of the jokes feel like they belong in the year 2000 when LGBT people were the butts of jokes and included in them.
Thankfully, there is enough good here to make “The Prom” an enjoyable watch, particularly with two of its cast members. Streep, who is always good in everything, and Key share a lot of scenes together and both of them give the best performances of the movie and have wonderful chemistry together. In a story that has way too many subplots, theirs is one I care about.
Sadly, the rest of the big names in the cast don’t deliver on what their careers and this story promise. Corden, Rannells and Kidman are all phenomenal actors, but whether it was poor casting or a misfiring script, they don’t do anything noteworthy here. All the high school kids also do quite well considering many of them don’t have much experience, but neither the two girls who want to go to prom or the mean kids who don’t like them are spectacular.
The biggest problem for any movie musical adapted from a Broadway show is the translation of stage to screen. That jump from a single space with alternating sets to the giant shooting locations Hollywood can provide is so easy to get lost in, and a lot of the imaginative magic that a stage musical has is lost when you’re in a real high school or shopping mall or wherever.
And yet, the message about acceptance and being who you are is too important to ignore or be mad at. It may be too silly and overly stylized at times, and some of the performances get on my nerves, but those who enjoy Broadway will enjoy “The Prom,” and hopefully those who don’t will at least understand and accept what it’s trying to say.