Musicals do not get to be mediocre. The characters must be charismatic; the story needs to have focus; and most of all, the music should be memorable. When one of these aspects fails, immediately the entire experience is cheapened. The Prom fails in all three respects.
Directed by Ryan Murphy, The Prom introduces us to a group of Broadway has-beens who descent upon a small town to assist Emma, a teenager who has been banned from taking her girlfriend to the prom. But the film is never engaging, nor fun. It lacks focus and clumsily stumbles on as a loud, uncoordinated mess.
The film has one clear oversight: there is no point of view. The film opens on the school’s decision to ban the prom: this would signal that, as the title suggests, the dynamics between teens would anchor the story. Yet the movie wastes a depressing amount of time on the Broadway stars (James Corden, Meryl Streep Andrew Rannells, Nicole Kidman) and their lengthy back stories. What is most frustrating is that the film recognizes this, yet it never does anything to fix it: in one of the key numbers, Meryl Streep sings ‘It’s Not About Me’ to a bewildered PTA crowd.
Sadly, the film is about her. She has the most character development, as poorly done as it is. The LGBTQ+ story is merely a tool used to improve her, rather than uplift Emma, played by Jo Ellen Pellman. The film had the opportunity to tackle heavy topics in an original and refreshing manner. After all, Hollywood desperately needs more positive LGBTQ+ stories. Yet even when touching on the complex issues of virtue signaling and homophobia, the film is revealed in all its emptiness—a tired rhetoric that adds nothing to the conversation, nor does anything to entertain.
It almost seems as if this movie was meant to be a TV show. In that case, you could have dedicated an episode to Streep’s backstory, without taking away from who should have been the protagonist of this story. Instead, we are left with generic teens that fail to engage in any realistic way. Not only because, continuing in the tradition of Glee, they all look 24, but because they have no character trait other than the broad archetypes they are drawn as.
Forgiving story oversights, a good musical should at least have one thing: good music. Yet The Prom’s songs are sadly forgettable, all blending into one giant, sugary mess. Movies like La La Land and West Side Story have demonstrated how challenging conversations can be approached through music, as demonstrated by Emma Stone’s iconic audition scene, or Rita Moreno’s exhilarating “America”. No theme should be off limits in musicals. However, singing at a group of teenage homophobes to ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ to turn them into allies just screams ‘shallow’. Plus, the song is not even good. The movie fails to grasp the seriousness of the topics being discussed, with the musical numbers stunting the few character moments that were attempted. They come off as interruptions, rather than development. This hurts the love story between Emma and Alyssa, (Ariana DeBose). They are clearly different characters, who are never given the time to show what binds them, besides their sexuality.
If nothing else, this movie could’ve been saved by a compelling visual style. After all, glitz and glamour seems to be the focus here, rather than the heart-breaking story at the heart of it. But the impact of the colourful costumes is hindered by a brightly lit backdrop, resembling of so many comedies we see today. The direction and cinematography lacked inventiveness or style, making this an even more disappointing watch. Moreover, the idea of casting stars like Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman to uplift an underdog of a film would have been great. However, the writing never commits to one idea of what these characters are supposed to be. In their best scenes, they are larger-than-life Broadways stars. But in their worst, they derail the story with ultimately pointless backstories.
A wise man once said: “Meryl Streep could play Batman and be the right choice. She is perfection.” This is true. Streep plays this role beautifully, yet it simply does not work for this movie. She does the best with what she is given but, much like her character in the movie, her presence feels forced. A story that should’ve been about a teen battling homophobia becomes about an actress using this situation to become a better person. She is never truly selfless, even in her big ‘sacrifice’ moment, because the promise of a rewarding love story is always there.
This movie desperately needed a personal touch. Since the writers could not trust the young lead with the weight of that, James Corden could’ve provided a welcome perspective. However, when the character is written as a tired stereotype, whose sole role is to give makeovers to the sad female protagonists. Only charisma can bring this role to life, which James Corden simply does not bring to the table.
Nicole Kidman is the best part of the movie. She is cheery, uncomplicated and charismatic. She shines in those small moments and gestures: those winks to the audience, typical of a musical. Her backstory is developed enough to give her some dimension, without being as overwritten as Streep’s and Corden’s.
A desperate attempt at entertainment, this movie tries so hard to please the audience that it loses its identity along the way.
Words by Elisabetta Pulcini
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