There's no denying that "The Prom" is fun, bright and colorful. But while the celebration is in full-swing, one too many missteps leave this dance falling flat.
There is glee spattered all over "The Prom," and with good reason: "Glee" show-runner Ryan Murphy is at the helm, directing his first feature since 2010's "Eat Pray Love." The material is right in his wheelhouse, adapted to a full-length Netflix feature film from the 2018 hit Broadway musical of the same name. It centers on a group of somewhat washed-up actors, who decide to travel to a conservative town in Indiana to help out a young lesbian (newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman) who has been denied going to her high school prom because of her sexual orientation. It's "Glee" meets "Footloose" and for the most part, it's a rip-roarin' good time.
Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) is the biggest fading star of the lot, with her flamboyantly gay leading man Barry Glickman (James Corden) at her side. A young wanna-be actor, Trent (Andrew Rannells) hasn't quite made much of his career just yet, and then another former star, Angie (Nicole Kidman) comes along for the ride as well. Emma (Pellman) is in love with her still-closeted girlfriend, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose), whose mom (Kerry Washington) just happens to be the most conservative member of her school's PTA. The Principal (Keegan-Michael Key), is on Emma's side, but is caught up in the politics and the culture of his town's staunch, "traditional" values.
Streep leans in and makes Dee Dee Allen shine...here is one of the most modest but best real actresses of all-time playing an actress who is convinced she is the best actress of all-time, and she nails it. Rannells too - who recently was a stand-out in another stage-to-screen Netflix adaptation, "The Boys in the Band" - is also great in his role, and probably has the best musical number in the film (you'll know it when you see it). And while the young actresses - both Pellman and DeBose - are compelling, they don't have much depth.
Elsewhere, the performances go from lacking depth to straight-up miscasting. James Corden is no stranger to musicals or the theater, but he seems strangely too young and uneven for the part. Kerry Washington is playing a stereotype and Keegan-MIchael Key - a great comedian and improvisor - is suffocated and confined to his bland role as well. And Kidman's character...why is she even in this again? It nearly seems like Kidman just showed up on set, without a character to play, and they threw her in a handful of scenes. It's no fault of her own, but her performance and her character are both the most "wedged-in" of all.
When watching "The Prom," you can imagine how a more superior version exists on a stage. When in full-swing, Murphy's choreography with the camera, the detailed sets and costumes and the "all-in" cast will bring a wide smile to your face, but these moments are fewer and farther between than they probably should be. These characters are right at home when breaking out in song and/or dance, but when they are forced to live in the scenes between, you realize just how flimsy the whole thing is.
"The Prom" isn't devoid of joy, and its themes of acceptance and truth are obviously deeply important. The film has its moments, but it lacks the structural rhythm to be considered a good musical, and the depth that would make it a good movie.
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Drama.
Run Time: 2 hours 10 minutes.
Starring: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Keegan-Michael Key, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, Kevin Chamberlain, Jo Ellen Pellman, Ariana DeBose.
Directed by Ryan Murphy ("Eat Pray Love," "Running With Scissors").
"The Prom" is on Netflix on Friday, December 11th, 2020.
Looking for a specific movie or review?