REVIEW: ‘The Prom’ is Saved by an Incredible Cast

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the Prom

The Prom, Netflix’s newest musical adaptation directed by Ryan Murphy, premiered December 11th. This adaptation is based on a musical of the same name, which made its debut in 2018. The story follows high school teen Ellen (Jo Ellen Pellman), who just wants to attend the prom with her girlfriend, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose). Unfortunately, several members of the student body and PTA, including Alyssa’s mom (Kerry Washington), cancel the prom when they hear that Ellen wants to bring a date. The high school’s principal, Tom Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key), tries to help Ellen but can’t seem to make a difference.

Meanwhile, in New York, broadway stars Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Corden) are waiting for the reviews to come in from their latest play. Disappointment begins to set in as their musical gets horrible reviews. Desperately wanting to get good press after negative reviews, their fellow cast member, Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman), reads about what happened to Ellen and the four decide to throw a prom that she can attend. Alongside Broadway actor Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells), they head to Indiana to prove to the world they’re much more than the negative reviews that they were given.

I’ll admit that before seeing the trailer of The Prom a few weeks ago, I hadn’t heard about the original production or about the impact that it made in the 2018 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. However, I was in awe of its premise, mostly because of how simple but powerful it was. While it’s obviously selfish that a group of broadway actors would only help Ellen because they believe that this will bring good press, the film does an excellent job in not only redeeming the broadway actors but also highlighting the importance of acceptance and being yourself. The cast worked well in bringing forth the message of acceptance to such a degree that I wish I could have seen the original production to see how the original cast was able to get this done.

There were several stand-out performances in The Prom, one of which was Pellman as Ellen. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from her character, but I was pleasantly surprised with Pellman’s natural talent. From her first scenes on screen, it was evident that she was well cast for the lead role. The strength that she was able to give to her character when dealing with hate from everyone was incredible. Ellen’s journey throughout the film, although challenging, never lacked the sense of it feeling inauthentic. Every emotion from Ellen felt real, which made her a character that audiences will want to cheer on. On top of that, her musical performances were such a pleasure to watch. While everyone on social media is talking about her performance of “Unruly Heart,” I was completely mesmerized by “Dance With You,” which she sang with DeBose.

DeBose, who played Ellen’s girlfriend, also put on a stand-out performance. Her character can only be described as someone who is forced to live a perfect life that’s dictated by her mother. Because of this, she’s constantly afraid of her mother finding out that she’s gay and in a relationship with Ellen. Even though DeBose had a handful of scenes throughout the film, she made her presence known. Her constantly struggle with having to be the perfect daughter and wanting to be herself was handled well. Although this struggle isn’t something particularly new within the world of film, DeBose was able to embody just how difficult this was for her. When she sang “Alyssa Greene,” her character delves deep into just how difficult it is to live this double life and how much she wishes it could end. From watching that performance alone, I’m quite excited to see what future roles DeBose gets.

the Prom

What really caught my attention from watching The Prom trailer was that Streep, Kidman, and Rannells working together. I’ve been a fan of the work they have all done individually and work that some of them have done together. Other than Alyssa and Ellen, the three of them are the heart of the film that makes everything truly spectacular. The multiple singing numbers that Dee Dee was feel and sound like they belong on a Broadway stage. I could honestly just watch a one-woman show with Streep as the star and I wouldn’t be disappointed. Kidman’s duet with Pellman in the third act, called “Zazz,” was her big moment and it did not disappoint. It also shows the way in which her character truly cares for Ellen, regardless of the original reasons for them coming to help her in the first place. Rannells’ performance and natural charisma fit well within the film. While he’s there for comedic effect, he manages to a cornerstone of the film that, if not there, would have made the film take a major hit.

With all of this star power in The Prom, it’s quite noticeable from the first scene of the film that it was directed by Ryan Murphy. Having watched other shows that he’s created, such as Glee and American Horror Story, I’m quite familiar with how he directs and how his characters are created. That being said, many of the issues that come from Murphy’s other works are also seen in The Prom. For one, the manner in which the films wraps up makes it seem as if homophobia is something that is magically gone from a small community in Indiana. While it does show a community rising above hate, it doesn’t mean that hate towards the LGBTQ+ community is suddenly eradicated. A perfect example of this is the song called “Love Thy Neighbor,” which somehow takes away the harm that homophobia causes. While it’s a funny song, it diminishes the topic of homophobia to something trivial.

There is also the casting of Corden, a straight man, and having him play an openly-gay character. To make matters worse, Corden’s portrayal of Barry, rather than feeling authentic, is more of a caricature. I found myself laughing at him more than feeling any sort of empathy. It seemed as if his casting was merely done to be the gay best friend rather than a character that audiences can take seriously. On top of that, a lot of the dialogue was rather bland seemed out of place. While I did enjoy most of the big-name actors in the film, Murphy ignored the premise of the film in that he didn’t cast either the original actors or any actors that haven’t gotten their big break yet. The characters in the film are all actors who haven’t made it yet and the original production’s cast were chosen to fit that description. Casting big names brings down the overall quality of the musical that made it great.

While there were significant issues with the musical in terms of casting and Murphy’s decisions in directing, I quite enjoyed watching The Prom. Most of the incredible cast made this a memorable film and one that many viewers will surely revisit from time to time. The film’s stand-out newcomers, Pellman and DeBose, brought amazing star power and I am excited to see where they go from here. Steep, Kidman, and Rannell brought forth the sense of why people fall in love with musicals and the effect they have. I hope the three of them work together again someday. Overall, The Prom is a campy film that brings all the zazz, even with its major issues.

The Prom is now streaming worldwide, exclusively on Netflix.


'The Prom'
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

While there were significant issues with the musical in terms of casting and Murphy’s decisions in directing, I quite enjoyed watching The Prom. Most of the incredible cast made this a memorable film and one that many viewers will surely revisit from time to time. The film’s stand-out newcomers, Pellman and DeBose, brought amazing star power and I am excited to see where they go from here. Steep, Kidman, and Rannell brought forth the sense of why people fall in love with musicals and the effect they have. I hope the three of them work together again someday. Overall, The Prom is a campy film that brings all the zazz, even with its major issues.