Director: Ryan Murphy
Writers: Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin
Broadway Writers: Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin, Matthew Sklar
Music Composers: David Klotz, Matthew Sklar
Cast: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, Keegan-Michael Key, Kerry Washington, Andrew Rannells, Jo Ellen Pellman
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Ryan Murphy, who directed The Prom, has had an eclectic career so far — from the hit musical show Glee to the attention and Emmy-grabbing American Crime Story. He’s been described as an underdog and simultaneously, the most powerful man working in television. His ever-expanding roster has been trashed on, revered, misjudged, and celebrated — he embodies this unexpected and strange cauldron of talent, hard-work, excess, and utter nonsense. And that is why, when The Prom ended, I couldn’t decide whether this musical was Murphy at his peak or his lowest.
Mired in something that I like to call the ‘high-school musical grandeur,’ The Prom is about a team of four Broadway failures that are desperate to rejuvenate their pomp-filled careers. The only idea that graced their wonderful minds, for that, was to improve their social image. And like opportunist vultures, they swooped in and grabbed the first thing that they saw trending on Twitter — a high-school prom that got cancelled because a student wanted to bring their partner, of the same sex, to the event. And then began the film’s self-congratulatory woke parade.
Murphy’s musical, which has been adapted from a 2018 Broadway show, isn’t any different from those self-righteous, mantra-spewing blogs that list the ten best ways to be socially woke. It is like WikiHow on glittery steroids, giving us a hokey and watery explanation on how to embrace someone who has just, for the first time, shared that they are gay. But this isn’t the film’s biggest crime — it is James Corden.
The Broadway quartet is played by Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, and Andrew Rannells. They travel to a small town in Indiana to help Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), the reason behind why the prom got called off. Corden, who also plays a gay character, personally resonates with Emma’s plight — both of them were socially ostracised and abandoned by their parents. These are characters straight out of Murphy’s previous works. The difference here, however, is that Corden’s character is a blistering attack on all the progress cinema has made when it comes to representing homosexuals. His portrayal, which is heavily riddled with offensive stereotypes, is what you would expect from films and shows over ten years ago — the high-pitched voice, feminine gestures, and a fashionista personality. Replace Corden with a cardboard cutout and that would, without a doubt, do a better job than him.
Meryl Streep plays a more restrained version of her role in The Devil Wears Prada. Like every other performance of hers, she executes this flawlessly. Her character is a self-obsessed narcissist — put a mirror in front of her and she’d be glued to it. On the other hand, I still do not know what Nicole Kidman did — she’s too important to be called a sidepiece but even sidepieces have personalities better fleshed out than hers. What eludes me though, is why they chose this monstrosity of a film that even an aspirin cannot make more bearable. It is a pretentious sermon on how to appear progressive, where every character is either someone who preaches or is preached to.
The music, just like the story, is forgettable and unmoving. The only song where I actually tapped my feet was the infectiously addictive ‘Tonight Belongs to You.’ As a sucker for well-crafted rhymes, there were a few lyrics that my mind couldn’t escape — “One thing’s universal / Life’s no dress rehearsal” and “Go big or you’ve blown it / It’s time that we own it”. But overall, despite all the glitzy and sumptuous treatment the songs and its set pieces get, The Prom has absolutely no redeeming quality going for it. It is shallow and insincere, easily one of Ryan Murphy’s poorest works.
The Prom is available on Netflix.