The Prom (2020) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Glittering but passable

Netflix film “The Prom”, which was released on Netflix in last week shortly after being released in theaters a few weeks ago, is as lively and glittering as you can expected from a musical film directed/co-produced by Ryan Murphy. It is surely bold and colorful without any ounce of shame on using broad stereotypes and contrived narrative, and I appreciated the game efforts from its cast members, but then I eventually got tired as recognizing its numerous weak and superficial aspects.

As many of you already know, the movie is an adaptation of the acclaimed 2018 Broadway musical of the same name, which was loosely inspired by the public reactions to the Itawamba County School District prom controversy in Fulton, Mississippi in 2010. As reflected by the film, a young lesbian high school girl attempted to attend her high school prom along with her girlfriend, but her request was unfairly denied, and her legal action against that subsequently drew lots of public attention at that time while getting considerable supports from a number of prominent celebrities in US.

However, the movie mostly focuses on a quartet of fictional Broadway performers eager to get the spotlight by any means necessary for each own reason. While Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Steep), who is your average narcissistic Broadway diva, badly needs something to make her career bounce from the latest flop, Barry Glickman (James Corden), who happens to perform along with her in that flop, is also as desperate as his longtime friend/colleague, and the same thing can be said about Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman) and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells), two small-time Broadway performers who have never had any big breakthrough in their respective careers for many years.

And then there comes an opportunity which seems to be too good to miss. Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman), a teenager lesbian girl living in Edgewater, Indiana, requested a permission to attend her upcoming high school prom along with her girlfriend who has incidentally not come out of her closet yet, but the parent-teacher association of her high school led by Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington) is not willing to give her the permission at all, and Mrs. Green and many other conservative parents are even ready to cancel the prom just for stopping Emma and her girlfriend. At least, Emma gets considerable support from Principal Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key), but this plucky girl surely needs more support in public, and that is where our four Broadway performers discern a golden chance for all of them.

Of course, it soon turns out that they are the last persons Emma and Principal Hawkins need right now, and the movie generates some nice laughs as Dee Dee and her fellow Broadway performers blatantly wield their flamboyant sides in front of the folks of Edgewater. Meryl Streep, who is no stranger to musical films at all, goes all the way with her character’s incorrigible narcissism as gleefully performing “It’s Not About Me”, and she is flawless as usual in delivering the ironically comical sides of the lyric.

While Dee Dee and her fellow Broadway performers clumsily try to support and help Emma after a cruel incident which really breaks her heart, the movie provides a series of musical moments as required, but the result is a mixed bag on the whole. I liked the sweet sincerity in “We Look to You”, and I also enjoyed a tribute to Bob Fosse musicals in “Zazz”, but then I winced more than once as watching the rather pedesterian presentation of “Love Thy Neighbor”, which unfortunately does not utilize well Andrew Rannells’ considerable comic and musical talent.

Above all, the screenplay by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, who also wrote the book for the 2018 Broadway musical, often falters due to its thin characterization and half-baked storytelling. When the mood becomes a little more serious during its second half, it tries to bring some depth to its main characters, but they still remain to be more or less than exaggerated caricatures, and that makes us more aware of many artificial aspects of the film including the strained acting of James Corden, who often looks like overplaying his character’s sexuality.

Nevertheless, the movie is not a total failure at least thanks to the spirited acting from Streep and its several other main cast members. Although she initially seems to be stuck in a thankless role, Kidman shines as delightfully performing “Zazz” along with Jo Ellen Pellman, and Pellman, who makes her debut here in this film, deserves to commended for holding her own place well among her far more notable co-performers. Quite engaging in her unadorned performance, she provides necessary gravitas to her character as well as the story, and it will be interesting to see next several years of her nascent acting career.

Overall, “The Prom”, which is incidentally another Netflix film directed by Murphy in this year after “The Boys in the Band” (2020), is a well-made musical product, but it did not particularly impress me much due to its numerous flaws which distracted me from time to time, and I eventually found myself watching its feel-good finale without much care or attention. Sure, its sincere message on tolerance and acceptance is something we always should keep in mind, but, folks, I was not entertained enough by how it is about, and that is all.

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