Review by Sean Boelman
(L to R) MERYL STREEP as DEE DEE ALLEN, NICO GREETHAM as NICK, LOGAN RILEY HASSEL as KAYLEE, ARIANA DEBOSE as ALYSSA GREENE, ANDREW RANNELLS as TRENT OLIVER, JO ELLEN PELLMAN as EMMA, SOFIA DELER as SHELBY, NATHANIEL POTVIN as KEVIN, TRACEY ULLMAN as VERA, JAMES CORDEN as BARRY GLICKMAN in THE PROM. Cr. MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX © 2020.
A schmaltzy high school musical directed by Glee creator Ryan Murphy is designed to appeal to a particular taste, and that target audience is going to eat it up. Even though it has a fair share of obvious issues, including falling victim to the exact narcissism it is parodying, The Prom is energetic and frequently hysterical.
The film follows a group of four washed-up Broadway performers who, hoping to revitalize their images, set out on a mission to help a high school girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom in a conservative small town community. And while the movie’s heart is undeniably in the right place, its approach is significantly misguided, at least for the first act.
Until around the midway point, the story seems more concerned with being a satire of the excess and self-centeredness of celebrities. Admittedly, it’s quite funny, but the characters are little more than caricatures with a basic redemption arc, and the legitimately important message of inclusivity is overshadowed.
However, when the film decides to double down on the emotional factor and focus more on the high school romance, it is much more effective endearing. Murphy obviously excels in telling this type of story, as it is reminiscent of a slightly more sentimental Glee, which is why it is disappointing that this did not serve as a stronger through-line for the narrative.
That said, the cast of the movie is pretty fantastic. It’s always fun to see Meryl Streep in a musical where she gets to be upbeat and joyous. James Corden’s turn will be divisive, but is enjoyably over-the-top. But the scene-stealers are the hilarious Andrew Rannells, who gets some of the biggest laughs in the film, and new actress Jo Ellen Pellman, who is great as the young lead. Only Nicole Kidman is unimpressive because she is criminally underused.
The music of the movie is definitely catchy, but what stands out about it most is its comedic value. The best songs are either those which stick true to their show tune roots or lean into full-on parody. There are a few moments in which the soundtrack tries to incorporate hip hop, and those feel like too hard of an attempt at pandering.
The production values are very good, but one would expect no less from an A-list musical. The choreography is top-notch and the set design is fun, immersing us in the world of the film. Arguably the biggest success, though, is Lou Eyrich’s costume design, which adds the perfect splash of color and vibrancy to the movie.
The Prom certainly isn’t a perfect film, but it’s undeniably charming and is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. It’s the type of movie that is best enjoyed by thinking as little as possible about its inconsistencies and enjoying its simple pleasures.
The Prom hits Netflix on December 11.