From Glee creator Ryan Murphy comes The Prom – and it’s got a few problems, but sheer entertainment isn’t one of them.
My thought coming to the end of Ryan Murphy’s movie take on the hit musical The Prom was that everything about it is on the surface. If you’re looking for subtexts, it you’re looking for bits and bobs hiding underneath to surprise you later, I don’t think you’re going to find them here. Instead, everything feels up front, and pretty in your face too.
But the more I thought about it, the more I concluded that it’s to the film’s strength.
Murphy’s no stranger to directing movies (Eat Pray Love was his last), but he’s best known for creating shows such as Glee and Nip/Tuck. Here, his new film shoots out of the traps as we’re presented with the cast of the musical Roosevelt. We get Meryl Streep channelling just a little of her Death Becomes Her character I thought, as Broadway star Dee Dee Allen. James Corden’s Barry Glickman meanwhile is alongside her, as well as Nicole Kidman’s Angie Dickinson. The trio are being served drinks by Andrew Rannell’s barman, Trent. And they all patiently await the reviews for their new production.
Spoiler: the reviews are shockers. The show is a disaster.
What can they possibly do to revitalise their careers, and make themselves relevant again? Based incredibly loosely on a true story, what they look for is a cause, and they find a scandal springing up on social media (surely not). Because across the country, Jo Ellen Pellman’s Emma lives in a small town in Indiana, and is being banned from her high school prom because she wants to go along with her girlfriend. And that just won’t do.
Thus, Streep, Kidman and Corden decide they’re going to head over to Indiana and do something about that, and reap lots of positive publicity as they do so. The latter mattering far more than the former. Andrew Rannell gets to come along too, but given he’s won a Tony for his work on Broadway in The Book Of Mormon, I’m not arguing with that.
It seems an awful lot of setup and plot, yet the opening act is breezy, fast, hugely entertaining and sets the very welcoming tone for the movie. It also, the more I thought about it, gets across a whole lot of information quickly. On top of that, Murphy seems at his happiest when his camera is moving around a huge production number, and those sequences are pretty irresistible. Backed by a Netflix budget, there’s a real sense of few expenses being spared.
Things inevitably slow down when the action moves to Indiana, but here’s where we meet school principal Mr Hawkins, played by Keegan-Michael Key. He’s a huge Broadway fan, particularly of Dee Dee’s, but he’s battling Kerry Washington’s protective parent over the upcoming prom. There are conflicts and battles all over the film, but at the heart a romance between two high school students who just want to dance together.
The reason it works is there’s a sense of leaving everything on the screen. Of an ensemble and crew just going for it, come what may. Thus, whilst it’s easy to question how low the obstacles for the characters ultimately turn out to be, and grumble that it perhaps goes on just a little too long, it’s never less than enjoyable. Had this gone to cinemas, I do wonder if it could have had the endurance of something like The Greatest Showman, and the songbook particular has numbers that feel they could stand the test of time (well, they already have to a degree, having moved from Broadway to a movie).
Performance-wise, the film doesn’t full rest on any individual’s shoulders, and that gives a little space for the leads to have some fun here. There’s been some backlash against James Corden I’ve noted, and whilst I do wonder if one or two lines could have used the curling bite of a Daniel Levy, there’s little doubt that he’s a very able musical performer. But the standouts for me are Kidman, Andrew Rannells and the wonderful pairing of Ariana DeBose and Jo Ellen Pellman. I’ve not seen either of them on screen before, and I look forward to more of their work.
There’s nothing about The Prom that’ll come close to solving the world’s problems, but I do think it might just mean something to quite a few people. For me, I just found it a very welcome blast of entertainment, from creatives who clearly know their stuff.
Glittering, in more than one sense.
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