The Movie Guru: Netflix’s ‘Prom’ fun but not exactly deep
For some people, musical theater is an even better pick-me-up than their morning coffee.
Those people will absolutely love “Prom,” the new movie from Ryan Murphy premiering on Netflix this weekend. Adapted from a lesser-known Broadway musical, “Prom” is a splashy, fun love-letter to musicals that also includes a sweet message of acceptance. Yes, it’s mostly as deep as a puddle, and some of the acting choices aren’t exactly nuanced, but if you have any love for people singing and dancing out their feelings then it’s a solid serotonin boost. Even better, some of the songs are catchy enough that you’ll find yourself humming along to them days after.
The movie starts with two aging Broadway divas (Meryl Streep and James Corden) dealing with the fact that their latest musical flopped dramatically. They and their struggling performer friends decide that the only way to save their careers is to become “celebrity activists,” descending on a small town who is denying a young lesbian named Emma the chance to go to prom with her girlfriend. The teen in question is struggling with her own issues, including the animosity of her fellow students and a closeted girlfriend who also happens to be the daughter of the repressive PTA head. Can the “celebrities” save the day, or will they just make everything worse?
Though the importance of accepting both yourself and others is a major theme of the musical, this is far from a deep or nuanced perspective on the take. Whether that fault lies in the broad strokes-and-musical numbers nature of a musical or Murphy’s tendency to do the same, it’s better to think of “Prom” as a big, splashy greeting card. The emotional resolution might not be earned in some cases, but you’ll get it in big heaping spoonfuls in between catchy tunes and even a couple of jokes.
Some of the sweetest musical numbers come from Emma and Alyssa, her closeted girlfriend. Neither of their numbers are terribly revolutionary, but they’re delivered with earnestness and just enough emotional nuance that anyone who’s ever found themselves in a similar situation can’t help but relate. Even when the Broadway performers get a little grating, you want these crazy kids to be able to work things out.
And even the Broadway stars have some nice moments. I kept wishing James Corden was Nathan Lane, but it’s fun to watch Meryl Streep even if she’s sleepwalking through the role a little bit. Andrew Rannels gets a killer musical number at the local mall, and Nicole Kidman has her own fantastic musical number and the most genuinely sweet moment of anyone in the “Broadway” portion of the cast. Also, it turns out Keegan-Michael Key can sing a lot better than any of us guessed.
Will it change the world? Of course not. It probably doesn’t even count as good representation (I’m looking at you, James Corden). But it’s sweet, it’s fun and it might even get you dancing. If you need more of a pick-me-up than your morning caffeine can provide, it’s not a bad place to start.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, some suggestive/sexual references and language
- Screenplay by: Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, based on the musical book by Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin, and Matthew Sklar, based on an original concept by creator Jack Viertel
- Directed by: Ryan Murphy
- Starring: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells, Ariana DeBose, Jo Ellen Pellman, Tracey Ullman, Kevin Chamberlin, and more
- Grade: Three stars (out of four)
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