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Concerts and Movies

Netflix Movie Review: ‘The Prom’

The Prom
The Prom

THE Prom’ is a Netflix movie adapted from the 2018 Broadway musical of the same title, directed by Ryan Murphy, an avid LGBT advocate who previously gave us the hit TV musical, “Glee”, and whose last films were “Eat Pray Love” in 2010 and “The Normal Heart” in 2014.

The Prom
The Prom

The film starts in a high school in a small town in Indiana where the head of the PTA, Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington), announces that the school’s annual prom is cancelled because a student, Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman, who was cast after a nationwide search), wants to take a girl as her date to the prom.

This is against the school’s rule that students can only bring a date from the opposite sex. Cut to Broadway where a new show, based on the story of Eleanor Roosevelt, just had its opening. Its main stars, Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Corden), are disheartened when the New York Times tore their show into pieces in its review.

Angie (Nicole Kidman), a chorus girl, tells them they need a cause they’ll champion to downplay their image of being narcissistic actors and suggests that they help the oppressed Emma in Indiana to give them good publicity.

So off they went to Indiana for some social activism against small town bigotry, along with Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells, Larry in “The Boys in the Band”, also by Ryan Murphy and also shown on Netflix) to help the marginalized Emma in her cause. “We’re gonna help that little lesbian,” they sing.

The film’s biggest asset is its splendid ensemble cast as all hell breaks loose when the city slickers from New York suddenly barge in at the PTA meeting to proclaim their support for the ostracized Emma. At first, the theatre people only worsened things when they did a production number in a monster truck show in an arena where the townsfolk booed their song advocating tolerance.

There’s another complication, Emma’s girlfriend, Alyssa (Ariana Debose), is actually the daughter of the recalcitrant PTA president. Emma and Alyssa’s plan is to make their attending the prom to be the latter’s coming out of the closet moment to her mom and their whole school.

The production numbers are all glossy and glitzy with a lot of showstopping acts, like Meryl Streep’s “The Lady’s Improving” where America’s most versatile actress chew the scenery with the help of her love interest, Keegan Michael Key who plays the high school principal sympathetic to Emma.

He’s also a diehard fan of Meryl as Deedee and has seen a lot of her plays on Broadway. Meryl plays her Broadway diva role with so much flair and gets to camp and ham it up hilariously with James Corden in a couple of well staged numbers.

Newcomer Jo Ellen as Emma does more musical numbers than any other cast member. She’s definitely quite a find in such numbers as “Just Breathe’’, “Dance with You” and “You Happened” with her star-making performance. She looks like a young Elizabeth Moss (“The Handmaid’s Tale” on TV, “The Invisible Man” on film) but with fantastic vocal pipes.

Emma was kicked out of their house by her parents after she came out and she stays with her grandma. Now, the whole school is bullying her for taking a stand, but she endures it all with pluck and courage. She finds a kindred spirit in Barry who was also rejected by his own parents and will later have a tearful reconciliation with his own mom (Tracey Ullman).

Don’t expect any deep treatment of homophobia or the suffering gay teens go through in outing themselves to their family. After all, this is a musical comedy which celebrates it with so much optimism expressed in the magic of infectious song and dance numbers that are undeniably fun to watch.

The characters encounter some other kinks in the course of the show but every problem is solved for the obligatory happy ending with its rousing grand finale of a musical number showing everyone singing and dancing.

We just saw Nicole Kidman doing a great a job as the beleaguered wife of Hugh Grant in the TV series “The Undoing”, but she now plays a supporting role in “The Prom” as a chorus girl who wants to be a star in “Chicago”. She has only one song number, “Zazz”, where she tells the story of Director Bob Fosse and an actress he helps in the staging of “Chicago”.

It’s nice to see her again in a musical after “Moulin Rouge” in 2001. But Meryl gets to sing more numbers like “Changing Lives”, “It’s Not About Me” and the smashing “The Lady’s Improving”, where she gives a stellar performance. Everyone gets his highlight, like Keegan Michael Key in “We Look to You” with Meryl, James Corden in “Barry is Going to the Prom”, and Andrew Rannells in “Love They Neighbor” set in a mall.

Some critics didn’t like the movie at all. But let’s face it, it’s so much better than last year’s film version of “Cats”. This is meant to be an unabashed Broadway romp and if you’re not the type who enjoys flashy characters dancing and singing with high energy in a mall or the streets of New York, then avoid watching it.

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