mon 25/01/2021

The Prom review - merry Meryl in middling musical | reviews, news & interviews

The Prom review - merry Meryl in middling musical

The Prom review - merry Meryl in middling musical

Ryan Murphy stage-to-screen transfer is a celeb-filled civics lesson

Diva-ine: Meryl Streep in 'The Prom'

Four Broadway denizens resolve to change the world "one lesbian at a time" in the cheerful if often cheesy The Prom, the film adaptation of a recent Broadway musical that continually reminds you of at least a half-dozen similar title

Four Broadway denizens resolve to change the world "one lesbian at a time" in the cheerful if often cheesy The Prom, the film adaptation of a recent Broadway musical that continually reminds you of at least a half-dozen similar titles, almost all of which are better (Hairspray, to name but one). That the film is nonetheless entertaining enough is due to material that wears a generous heart on its sleeve and that wants to reach across the aisle, so to speak, to temper bigotry and small-mindedness with dollops of acceptance and a jazz hand or two.

Insofar as the film often feels like a none-too-veiled rebuke to Mike Pence and his intolerant ilk (it's set largely in Indiana, the current veep's erstwhile stomping ground), its intentions are laudable throughout. All the more reason, then, to wish for that much more originality and spark from a fairly standard-issue narrative, here carried across the finish line by a gifted and committed cast. After all, it's not every day that Meryl Streep is asked to play a celluloid iteration of Patti LuPone: the sort of devilish diva given to plonking her two Tony Awards on a hotel front desk in request of an upgrade. 

Meryl Streep and James Corden in 'The Prom'How did Streep's gleefully vainglorious Dee Dee Allen land at a red state hostelry, ready and willing to combat the prejudices of a midwestern high school that exists at a hefty political remove from the one that catapulted this film's director Ryan Murphy to attention with Glee? Nursing her wounds from a notorious-sounding Broadway flop called Eleanor! (about the Roosevelts, 'natch), she and leading man Barry Glickman (James Corden) join forces with two other Broadwayites in order to restore their reputations elsewhere. And what better way to do that than to hitch their star wattage to the cause of Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman), a sweet if perfunctorily characterised student who has been forbidden from taking her girlfriend, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose, herself a 2018 Tony nominee for playing Donna Summer) to the prom.  

Cue a collision of cultures exacerbated by the fact that Alyssa's stern-faced mum (Kerry Washington) happens to run the local PTA and has zero idea that her daughter is, in fact, gay. But fear not: lest Edgewater, Indiana, seem an ideological lost cause, the school in question happens to have a Broadway-loving liberal - and someone straight, no less! - to champion the cause and to romance Dee Dee, for whom he has long flown a worshipful flag. Keegan-Michael Key is terrifically charming in that part and strikes real sparks with Streep, who is several decades his senior and doesn't seem it. 

the ensemble of 'The Prom'But The Prom isn't just a gaudily packaged civics lesson, it's a musical by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, as well, complete with soulful ballads for the young couple, a deliberately OTT paean to self-love for Dee Dee, and a high-energy finale ("It's Time to Dance", pictured right) that functions in precisely the same way as "You Can't Stop the Beat" from Hairspray without being anywhere near as good. 

Nicole Kidman, gamely playing a Bob Fosse-savvy chorine, gets an "All That Jazz" knockoff called, yes, "Zazz", while Corden's big moment comes with "Barry Is Going to Prom". The reflective solo allows the adult Barry to look back on his younger, sadder self and finds Corden in better voice than he was in the film of Into the Woods: all those carpool karaokes have enhanced his vocal chops. When not singing, Corden's performance otherwise feels strangely wan, as if the actor were afraid to give offense in the sort of broadly conceived role that someone like Nathan Lane could slay in his sleep. (As a footnote, Corden bears a striking resemblance to Brooks Ashmankas, the stage veteran who got a Tony nod as Barry in New York.) Considerably more comfortable here in his skin is Andrew Rannells as a classically trained bartender whose Sweeney Todd is said to have elicited the approval of Mr Sondheim himself. Or maybe not. 

Elsewhere, the film belongs on the one hand to newcomer Pellman, who suggests reserves to the quietly confident Emma not really found in the writing, and to Streep, back in the film musical terrain she knows well from Mamma Mia! and, yes, Into the Woods. Playing the sort of unbridled narcissist who might give even Miranda from The Devil Wears Prada pause, Streep sashays about in a red dress worthy of Momma Rose and looks as if she is having a whale of a time. And as long as she is, rest assured that we are, too. 

Newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman suggests reserves to the quietly confident Emma not really found in the writing

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters