January 28, 2021 – One of the key musical dance numbers in “The Prom” (and there are a lot of them in this show) is called “It's Not About Me,” featuring Meryl Streep (who can sing quite well).
It is meant to be a self-mocking song about a narcissistic band of Broadway stars hoping to rehabilitate their images by helping a young girl get to the prom. It is funny, but it doesn't quite ring true. The whole movie tries to balance the elitist, self-serving nature of these people against their desire to help someone. This delicate balance is handled clumsily.
The movie (not to be confused with the 2011 Disney movie, “Prom”) is adapted from the 2018 Broadway show of the same name. That show ran for less than one year and did not recoup its cost. It is not hard to see why.
There are some good song and dance numbers in the movie, and parts of it are amusing and even moving at times, it is overlong at over two hours, and it tries to come down on both sides of every moral and emotional issue.
James Corden (“Yesterday”) has the best emotional scene in the film, playing a gay man trying to reconcile with his estranged mother (played by Tracey Ullman). Andrew Rannells (“A Simple Favor”) has the best Busby Berkeley-inspired musical dance number, “Love Thy Neighbor” in a shopping mall, prancing around a fountain.
Jo Ellen Pellman (“The Deuce”) very effectively plays Emma Nolan, a lesbian, who wants to take her girlfriend, Alyssa Greene (Ariana DeBose of “Hamilton”) to the high school prom in Edgewater, Indiana. Alyssa's mother (played by Kerry Washington of “Django Unchained”) who doesn't know her daughter is gay, arranges for the entire prom to be canceled, rather than allow a gay couple to attend.
If this sounds a bit like the town of Bomont in “Footloose” (1984) where dancing is not allowed, that's because there are the same kind of big city elitist assumptions going on here. What seems plausible on Broadway, doesn't play well in the Heartland. I know this because I live in Laramie, home of the tragic Matthew Shepard murder, and the media storm, and the genesis of the “Laramie Project,” too. When people from New York swoop into town to tell you how you should feel, it seems more than a little presumptuous.
While the film is morally heavy-handed and the tone is uneven, I can't fault the actors. The cast is talented, headed up by those named above, plus Nicole Kidman, Keegan-Michael Key (of “Keanu”) and it was good to see Mary Kay Place (“It's Complicated”) again, playing Emma's grandmother.
If this movie had been released in theaters in a non-pandemic year, it might have bombed. It certainly would have bombed in 2020 because of the pandemic, but 2020 was not a normal year, and it was a Netflix production. Who knows how it has done, or will do in the future? Online success is different, and less transparent, than box office income.
I think I would have liked this film better had it been distilled down to a shorter running time, but at 130 minutes it just slogs along too long for my liking. It rates a C.
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