Netflix UK film review: The Prom
Ivan Radford | On 12, Dec 2020
Director: Ryan Murphy
Cast: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Ellen Pellman, Keegan-Michael Key, Kerry Washington, Andrew Rannells
Watch The Prom online in the UK: Netflix UK
“You’re not likeable. Nobody likes a narcissist.” That’s cold, hard truth facing Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Corden), two Broadway stars who find their latest production faced with scathing reviews. And so they come up with a scheme to make themselves likeable again: head to Indiana where a high school prom has been cancelled because one of its students, Emma (Ellen Pellman), wants to attend with her girlfriend. Taking it upon themselves to campaign on Emma’s behalf, they’re determined to throw the biggest prom in high school history and save the day for everyone.
It’s a ridiculously contrived set-up for a musical – despite being based on a true story – but it soon becomes apparent that The Prom isn’t interested in being subtle or understated. “We’re liberals from Broadway!” the thesps declare as they descend upon a PTA meeting, before Barry describes himself as being “as gay as a bag of wigs”. Corden, in particular, has proven a sore point, being cast in a gay role and taking the chance to camp things up as much as possible. Whether his dated and stereotypical affectations are the result of him leaning into an obnoxious portrait of an egotistical performer, it’s certainly without doubt that he’s the least low-key presence in the ensemble.
Director Ryan Murphy, though, clearly doesn’t want to do things quietly, and he fills his screen adaptation with vivid primary colours and extravagant lighting. He also makes sure that his key cast aren’t short of their own star power, from Meryl Streep’s vamping showbiz veteran, who insists she can change even as she makes that change all about her, to Nicole Kidman’s chorus girl Angie, who has a sweet heart-to-heart with Emma.
They’re all having a lot of knowing fun together, but the script is at its best when pulling apart its central troupe and letting them interact with those outside their smug bubble. Exchanges between Dee Dee and smitten high school principal Mr Hawkins (a wonderful Keegan-Michael Key) are genuinely charming, while Kidman’s Bob Fosse-esque tune, Zazz, balances over-the-top dance moves with a wittily composed subversion of Chicago’s opening song.
It’s a shame that more time isn’t given over to Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose as her girlfriend, Alyssa (the daughter of the conservative PTA head played by Kerry Washington), although their duet Dance with You is quietly one of the strongest moments in a production turned up to 11. There are no complaints, though, when that deluge of glamour results in a showstopper for the scene-stealing Andrew Rannells as cynical actor-turned-bartender Trent, who rails against the town’s hypocrisy in Love Thy Neighbor.
The result is a show that’s lacking the killer tunes of The Book of Mormon or the emotional depth of Dear Evan Hansen, but it’s heart is certainly in the right place. By the time the curtain raises on the closing number raises, it’s hard for any musical theatre fan not to be won over by this sparkling tale of acceptance and inclusion.
The Prom is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.