The Prom has been one of my favourite Broadway musicals of the last few years, and to say that I was skeptical about the upcoming adaptation of The Prom would be an understatement.
I fell in love with the musical back in 2018, but I’m not the biggest fan of movie adaptations, so I didn’t exactly have high hopes for this one. Was I going to watch the new adaptation of The Prom? Absolutely. Was I going to enjoy it? Probably not. So when Netflix offered me a screener and a chance to attend a press conference with the cast, I happily accepted, but with the nagging suspicion that I would end up writing a salty review complaining about Ryan Murphy and the curse that is Hollywood movie musicals.
But, my friends. My fellow theatre kids. My fellow haters of movie musical adaptations. I have fantastic news to report.
I loved this movie.
Adapted from the 2018 Tony-Nominated musical of the same name, The Prom follows a pair of Broadway stars (Meryl Streep and James Corden) who find themselves in a crisis when their new show flops. In a desperate attempt to rehabilitate their image, they join forces with Angie (Nicole Kidman) and Trent (Andrew Rannells), to journey to a small town in Indiana, where Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman) has been banned from attending her high school prom because she wanted to take her girlfriend (Ariana DeBose) as her date.
This movie is an almost word-for-word adaptation of the original Broadway musical that perfectly captures both its silliness and its emotional weight. I was enthusiastically singing along to almost every musical number, and yes, I cried at the emotional parts. It was a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience.
Newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman manages to stand out in an absolutely star-studded cast, as she brings much-needed heart and sincerity to her role as protagonist Emma. She and Ariana DeBose tell a heartfelt story about the nuances of being closeted and the pain of teenage heartbreak.
And, I mean, do I need to tell you that Meryl Streep, Andrew Rannells, and Nicole Kidman all kill it as Broadway divas? Streep’s big numbers are some of the movie’s best moments, and Andrew Rannells was apparently born to sing about religion because his version of “Love Thy Neighbour” is fantastic. Even James Corden makes a pretty good Barry, though his attempt at an American accent is sometimes distracting.
This movie is tons of fun, especially for anyone who’s really been missing musical theatre during this pandemic.
The Prom does, however, sometimes fall victim to the overly simplified attempt at progressiveness that characterizes so much of Ryan Murphy’s work. Murphy has a habit of writing stories where complex social issues are solved very quickly and very easily, which wouldn’t be a problem (we love escapism!) if he didn’t then frame these stories as ground-breaking when, if anything, they’re just trivializing important issues.
People unfamiliar with the source material might also be put off by the way The Prom kind of reproduces exactly the phenomenon it’s trying to call out in the characters of Dee Dee, Barry, Angie and Trent. There’s a line these characters keep saying over and over again, that’s also the title of one of the biggest musical numbers: “this isn’t about me.” It’s meant to be funny because, you know, they’re obviously making things about themselves. They’re narcissistic, out of touch Broadway stars with a saviour complex pretending to care about Emma’s problems. They’re taking up so much space, overstepping so much, trying so hard to make themselves seem like good activists, and it’s totally performative.
And yet… isn’t this story kind of about them?
It’s something that bothered me about the source material, and it’s definitely very present in the movie as well. It’s not exactly a dealbreaker, but it does mean that, as much fun as I have every time I watch the show and the movie, as soon as I’m done I’m always left wondering exactly what message it was trying to tell.
Don’t let any of that dissuade you from watching the movie, though. The Prom is one of the best movie adaptations of a musical I’ve seen in a long time. It is so much fun. I was grinning for hours after watching it, and I’ve been listening to the Broadway cast recording pretty much on repeat ever since. Where is that movie soundtrack, Netflix? I need it. Now.
This is ultimately a fun, feel-good, turn-off-your-brain kind of movie that’s badly needed at this point in the year. Is it the world-changing story about acceptance that it’s clearly trying to be? No, but not every gay movie needs to be that. The songs are catchy, the jokes all land, and the emotional moments hit hard. Also, anyone who manages to sit through those musical numbers without dancing or singing along is not human. I was pleasantly surprised by this adaptation, and I think it’s well worth watching whether you’re familiar with the original musical or not.
The Prom will be available to stream on Netflix December 11th, 2020.