IMDb Link: The Prom (2020)
Director: Ryan Murphy
Writers: Bob Martin, Chad Beguelin
Stars: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Jo Ellen Pellman
Based on: The Prom: The Musical
Synopsis: A troupe of hilariously self-obsessed theater stars swarm into a small conservative Indiana town in support of a high school girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom.
This has been a tough year for musicals in particular, with Broadway and the West End struggling to re-open. There is one moment in particular in this adaptation of The Prom which has Keegan-Michael Key sing “We Look to You” in a packed auditorium to the one and only Meryl Streep, who is on stage. It is sequences like this that remind us the magic of theatre and capturing that particular moment unlike anything the screen can. It is not a focus of this adaptation, but I just wanted to start this review by highlighting it.
Of course, Keegan-Michael Key and Meryl Streep are great in this. This is a true ensemble piece, where there was not one bad performance in the film – yes, I actually found myself liking James Corden here. There are a few stand out performances for me though. With the big names I just listed, it may seem strange to point out Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose as the two that gave the strongest performances, but they are undeniable here. After this explosive debut, especially from lead Pellman, expect them to get many more roles in the future and to keep an eye on them.
It is easy to see why this worked on the stage as the story is just so engaging to watch. With the current climate we are living in, there is still a fight for equality within the LGBTQ+ community and there is still a stigma with those within the community. This is an important story and one that has a compelling narrative, and that is because of the leading performances particularly from Pellman and DeBose.
With this engaging story, I should not have struggled as much as I did to become fully connected to the world. This was a film that should have felt grounded and focused on the human aspects of the narrative, and yet I found a lot of the technical elements to distract from that. Instead of keeping the focus on the narrative and character development, Ryan Murphy instead goes over-the-top with the art direction. Why does the school sequences have such bright purple lighting within it that distracts from the real horror that Pellman’s character goes through in that moment? Why is there a need for every musical number to be made into a big spectacle, even when Pellman is simply singing in her room in a sequence that should feel grounded in reality? It becomes distracting when this happens every few minutes.
To go with that, the editing did not help this film at all. It is clear right from the first few songs that the music is pre-recorded and then placed over in post-production. Whilst the music is great and everyone sings well, it does distract that it is so obvious that nobody is attempting to sing live. Not only that, but there are just so many unnecessary cuts within these musical numbers. The biggest offender, “Zazz”, tries to make every cut dramatic but having ten of these cuts within a very short frame just becomes distracting and ruins the entire number.
This is the exact sort of popcorn flick that you can stick on and have a good time with. I have issues with the technical elements, and Murphy’s direction can leave this story feeling cold at times when it shouldn’t. However, there is heart within the original story itself and the music is wonderful. This is a celebration of musical theatre, and a reminder to us that one day we will once again get to see stories like this on the stage.
The Prom is now available on Netflix.