The Prom

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The 2002 Simpsons episode “Jaws Wired Shut” commences with a gay pride parade marching down the streets of Springfield. The crowd chants “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it!” Lisa Simpson happily declares, “You do this every year, we are used to it.” I felt like Lisa while watching this musical. It’s the story of what happens when four thespians of the Broadway stage decide to crash a high school in an ostentatious attempt to show their support for two girls who have been forbidden to attend the year-end dance together. The Prom wears its virtue like a saintly halo.

The production is very much from the mind of Ryan Murphy. He’s a busy guy. It was just 10 weeks prior that Murphy released his remake of The Boys in the Band. Everything this man produces/directs/writes shares a similar sensibility, but this should particularly delight fans of his Fox TV series Glee. The Prom is based on a 2018 Broadway musical and its writers (Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin, and Matthew Sklar) have adapted the screenplay. Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep ) and Barry Glickman (James Corden) are narcissists who intend to exploit a teen (Jo Ellen Pellman) for free publicity. They want to make themselves look good so they can charm their critics and subsequently win Tonys. Coming across as only slightly less conceited are Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman) and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells) playing failed actors who assist.

Subtlety has never been Ryan Murphy’s strong suit. There are two contrasting narratives here, each fighting to gain the upper hand. Initially, it appears the script means to satirize the emptiness of celebrities who publicly flaunt their do-gooding gestures as a way to further their own popularity. That’s clever and pretty edgy. This bold attitude pervades the first half. It achieves an ending of sorts in the center of the film. Then the plot drags on for another hour. This is an interminably long 131 minutes. The account ultimately settles into a conventional sanctimonious morality piece. The movie unsuccessfully tries to unite these conflicting perspectives together. All the while gleefully patting itself on the back for defending virtue widely accepted by the mainstream. Promoting acceptance and tolerance can be an admirable thing. Pound the sermon too vehemently though and even the faithful will flee the church.

The Prom feels like a dated relic from an earlier era. The overall message is to “Love thy neighbor.” It’s even the name of one of the songs . That’s not an innovative concept but the screenwriters earnestly present the platitude as if they invented the idea. The head of the PTA Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington) leads the charge against the girlfriends (Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose) wanting to attend the school formal. I struggled to determine what year this is, because these attitudes do not make sense in 2020. Yes, even in small-town Indiana. Though she is supported by a few parents and students, she faces a lot of hostility. Even the principal (Keegan-Michael Key) opposes her. Mrs. Greene and her closed-minded bigots seem to be in the minority. I guess it makes the antagonists’ unearned but predictable change of heart at the end a little easier to accept. This incidentally happens at a climactic dance-off, natch.

The Prom is all over the place. It begins with satirizing egocentric types who profit from supporting a cause célèbre. Then it abruptly reverses course to guilelessly championing that very same “controversy” with so much zeal there isn’t room for even a hint of irony. The production is loud, scattered, and in your face. If 10 is the maximum energy that most entertainers are allowed to express, then these actors have pushed their intensity to an 11. Everyone mugs for the camera, but James Corden takes the offense to another level. He’s already a needy, cloying personality in real life. Here he’s accentuated that obsequious quality to the point he’s insufferable. Still, it’s hard to completely hate everything about The Prom. The film is glitzy, bright, and colorful with lots of lighthearted tunes. The upbeat music bursts with joy. Meryl Streep embodies her character with an honesty that transcends the material. The musical is well-intentioned. However, something is truly amiss when a movie annoyingly hammers the proverb “Love conquers all” so vociferously that you actually start to reject the thought.


2 Responses to “The Prom”

  1. I didn’t hate it, but it was pretty ridiculous. The songs were good, but sound like songs I’ve heard before. Ariana was great! 3 stars

    Liked by 1 person

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