I’ve spent a few hours re-reading entries from this time of year on my blog. I realise I wrote a lot of film reviews when I was blogging. As a result, I’ve been reevaluating what I thought about House Of Flying Daggers, Napoleon Dynamite, Love Actually and The Lord of The Rings. The main problem with this, of course, is that blogging is stuck in the early 2000s. So, what about a more contemporary review?
It’s December 2020 and London is in COVID-19 lockdown tier 4 which means that cinemas are closed and, thus, a film review may be hard. Having said that, streaming is the new cinema and tonight we watched The Prom on Netflix.
I do not come with preconceptions of the film based on any prior knowledge of the musical on which this is based. The film was recommended by my friend Rob and my Dad which suggests a broad appeal. The adaption is by Ryan Murphy, who I know as creator of Glee and one of my lockdown highlights, Netflix’s Hollywood.
The movie is set in world where ‘Eleanor: The Eleanor Roosevelt Story’ closes after first-night terrible reviews that tag the stars (played by Meryl Streep and James Corden) as the worst of self-obsessed celebrity. Somehow (and here my memory of any plot is gone), characters played by Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells become part of their ‘Broadway liberals’ gang.
Meanwhile, in Indiana a school’s PTA cancels the school prom because a female student – Emma – wants to take a girl to the dance. The schools head teacher seems to be the only supportive character in the town of Edgewater. Thus, a cause is created for the New York performers to prove they’re not as self-obsessed as the reviewers said. They all get on a bus to head to Indiana. This is not a Priscilla road trip movie and, before you know it, Broadway’s stars are trying to check into a Holiday Inn Express. Or something like that.
You do have to suspend disbelief here – in spite of the real-life roots of the story – because it’s a musical and the story is advanced in song. The premise manages to be both a big-old cliche and remarkably well-done at the same time. If you can work with the idea that an entire town’s moral compass can be re-pointed by an Andrew Rannells’ song and dance routine set in a shopping mall and using the water feature fountains as a central prop, performing a song called Love Thy Neighbor, then you’re going love this film. And, if you think you’re not going to find that concept remotely appealing, you probably should still watch this film because it’s funny, with the right amount of musical theatre camp to keep it rooted in a joyful place even when the story, inevitably has it’s downbeat moments. And at this point in 2020 we all need a bit of cheering-up.
The musical numbers are more Legally Blonde than Hamilton (although a pinch of Chicago, with all the associated jazz hands, is added for flavour) but they’re good fun and, in true Andrew Lloyd Webber style, move the plot on at a decent pace.
Two different story lines – the prom story and the redemption plot – work together so well that they can conjure up Tracey Ullman (but saying as who and why would be too much of a spoiler). Supporting cast, Kerry Washington, Jo Ellen Pellman, Keegan-Michael Key and Ariana DeBose are all excellent but we tuned in for the A-listers, didn’t we?
Meryl Streep is a pure joy to watch as Dee Dee Allen (she has two Tony awards, you know). A really solid, believable performance and you could watch an entire movie based on her character. James Corden, as Barry, manages to hold the camp to right side of funny – and tragic, when it matters – while walking a tightrope where he could, at any moment, fall into the offensive side. I think he handles it well. For me, Nicole Kidman playing a Chicago chorus girl is under used, especially at the start because she manages to be the only Broadway liberal to manage empathy and, I think, that provides the thread that holds the story together. Andrew Rannells’ character doesn’t quite have the depth of the others to make him quite so real but it’s a great perforamance and, after all, manages to convince an entire shopping mall that same-sex relationships are not an abomination in under 4 minutes. It’s a work of genius.
The Prom is a joy-filled song fest that works to keep the spirits up in these in-between Christmas and New Year days. And it’s on Netflix so, if you have a subscription, you can spend a couple of hours laughing for no extra cash. An actual New Year bargain