Not the Most Special Night
Reviewing this musical is a decision I do not take lightly, and it is to save the pain of others who may want to watch this film for the hell of reviewing. I am a lover of all musicals and I will be totally frank in this review: there are good parts to The Prom (no relation to the Slasher series, Prom Night), and it was a fun watch, but unfortunately it is neither great nor "cult bad" (like Anna and the Apocalypse), and it is certainly not even worth a second watch.
Prom starts with four narcissistic Broadway actors trying to boost their fame and popularity by finding a "cause". That "cause" (based on what's trending) happens to be a lesbian who wants to attend prom with her girlfriend, however she lives in a conservative Indiana town where the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) cancels prom just so this girl cannot bring her girlfriend. Yeah, that is a conservative issue.
This movie is about inclusion, a fair and needed narrative in Hollywood. Written and directed by Ryan Murphy (of Glee and American Horror Story fame), Prom is a musical that really wants to be "about" something. Ryan, I respect the attempt, but your ability to convey LGBTQ issues n musical form (despite yourself being gay) falls short here. Ultimately the film is too pedestrian for the talent acquired.
James Corden, who is nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Barry Glickman in this film, was decent. James was bashed by critics' reviews because, apparently, he is not gay, (Who knew? Honestly, I have always thought he was gay.) He has now been outed as straight and cancel culture is currently hell bent on making sure that gay parts are played by gay actors, Asians are played by Asian actors, and African Americans can play whatever they want because they have been held down by the man far too long... But I digress. James Corden's portrayal of Barry was spot on but maybe not flamboyant enough for other critics. I thought it was acceptable.
Meryl Streep (yes, I said Madam M) is in this film. She was not nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Dee Dee Allen, a Broadway icon who is feeling down because she got a bad review that closes her show, which is a shame because she was particularly good. Meryl has always been an amazing actress, no issues in this movie. Her singing has clearly improved, and she must have been working with a vocal coach, because from Into the Woods (okay and passable) to Mama Mia (yeah okay not much better but its ABBA so...), to Prom -- Damn girl! Her range has improved immensely. I give her full kudos and props. (Golf Clap here).
The rest of the notable cast is filled in by Nicole Kidman who portrays Angie Dickenson, an aging chorus girl who wants to be a star; Andrew Rannells (of The Book of Mormon fame) who portrays Trent Oliver, a bartender/actor who graduated from Juilliard (a running gag, emphasis on the gag part); Kerry Washington (most notably known from Scandal and Django Unchained, who portrays Mrs. Green, PTA President; and Keegan-Michael Key (of Key and Peel fame), who plays Principal Tom Hawkins. The acting I have no issues with at all; it is all spectacular. The cast is great. But an all-star cast does not ensure a great movie. (Cats, need I say more?)
There are funny moments which highlight the stereotypes of narcissistic actors, which was fairly accurate of famous people and not so famous people (I am acquainted with in the business). It offers a feel-good musical ending, which in a conservative town would never happen (but here's to hoping that even conservative towns can suck it up and become human; it could happen).
The music and songs feel like they were a pick-up from the Glee cutting room floor, a secondary thought “Hey, let's write a musical about prom!” (That no one asked for, ever!) The songs were not bad, they just are not as good as they could have been if it were a different subject altogether. If you can't write a musical about high school, as good as High School Musical, then maybe you should re-think the concept.
The actors who play teenagers are decent singers and actors. However, as we have seen many times, there are teenagers who can sing and dance. Do yah think if cancel culture is going to pick on things like straight actors playing gay as an issue that you aren't going to get hit for ageist issues? Again, High School Musical at least found teenagers or recent graduates to play seniors. It is not going to be corrected by having Meryl Streep's character being wooed by a twenty-year younger man (Keegan-Michael Key), although that was appreciated.
There is also some tone-deaf lyrics. One song, "Love Thy Neighbor" (which, in itself, is and would be a decent song as its catchy and has a The Book of Mormon revival feel) has lyrics, "there's one rule that trumps them all". Now this is nit-picky, I know, but in 2021, where liberals are finally relieved to not have to hear the word “trump” in every part conversation, you couldn't pick any other word? It sours the entire song for me. It also reminds me that the first set of protagonists are all white and the second set of protagonists (PTA) are led by an African American woman. Eh meh. Overdone and over it.
Murphy tries to make up for a clear Black-to-White aesthetic by coloring the cast (just a sprinkle of ethnicity here, so to speak) when it comes to the very colorful traveling drama group referred to as the "Godspell Kids", who help transport the Broadway actors to Indiana, and act as a back-up ensemble. (Where can I get an ensemble like that, when I break into song?) But again, this falls drastically short of color for the leads (all White); are we saying that there aren't any Hispanic, Asian, or African American actors who aren't Karen enough to be narcissistic Broadway actors? I feel there was a missed opportunity here; Murphy knew it and tried a course-correction with other casting choices, but ultimately it drives home the point that Hollywood is still deaf, dumb, and blind when it comes to diversity. We need to do better.
It was more enjoyable for me to watch this musical than yet another military insurgency film. I am as disappointed by this film as was the reviewers from Rotten Tomatoes who gave it a scathing 56 percent. I am not sure it's good enough to be in consideration for Golden Globe nods when I am sure there was other material out there, even in the middle of a pandemic, that could have been considered in lieu, like High Note (a movie with music that would suit this genre). That film is also woman directed with a mostly a heavily diverse cast. In comparison, Prom simply falls short, in all regard. I give Prom two smiley popcorn faces and a meh.