PG-13. Yeah, that reads about right for this movie. It's a high school dramedy, which means there's going to be a lot of high school related behavior. I mean, the movie is primarily about bigotry, so attitudes of bigotry are really heavily stressed. But the movie also seems to also consider Christians to be the worst. The language isn't exactly the cleanest. So, yeah, PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Ryan Murphy
I miss movie theaters. I know that they are open and that a vocal amount of people are saying that I should be going to the movie theaters or else they will be shut down. But I'm also very much in the camp of "Coronavirus be killing people and I don't have to go to the movies." Yeah, it is awful that businesses are hurting, but I do appreciate the opportunity to watch movies from my streaming services. Keeping people at home is what we need to be doing right now, so bravo to big budget films being released from home. So I watched The Prom (which I honestly thought was only named Prom) because it was a theatrical release and we were wrapping Christmas presents. I didn't know much about it, but I like James Corden sometimes and my wife digs these kinds of movies. Man...I'll tell you: That was rough.
Okay, it might be dangerous to be wading through these waters, so I will talk about the things the movie absolutely nails first. I can see this being an important film for the sake of representation. In terms of being unafraid to say what needs to be said, The Prom goes all in. It really sells its message of bigotry and leaves nothing to the subtext. (I'll comment how that's a negative thing later.) For the people who loved this movie and needed this movie, I'll never try and take that away from you. Some people straight up needed this film to come out and, just because I'm not one of those people, doesn't mean it doesn't detract from the good it accomplishes there. Also good is the amount of money thrown at this movie. It doesn't look cheap at any time. There are big name actors and the singing and dancing works. In terms of throwing a big-budget spectacle at us, that was --indeed--accomplished.
And now I lay into this movie. I know I'm not alone in disliking it. When I put it on, my wife stated, "I heard it was getting awful reviews." I knew almost nothing about it except that it was going to be a major release on the same day as it got into theaters. But I also know that she loves-loves-loves musicals and I've been trying to be more open-minded about contemporary musicals. So we powered through it. The first major takeaway I can give is that I thought we were past a lot of this kind of stuff. I'm not talking about the themes. The themes are fine. I'm talking about playing stereotypes for laughs, especially by the straight community. I know that James Corden is a straight man who is heavily involved in the musical theater community. He's very talented. But Barry Glickman isn't a nuanced character at all. James Corden is playing the gay best friend as offensively as can be imagined.
Barry Glickman, two decades ago, would have been brave as get-out. He would have turned heads and started controversy. But we now live in an era where gay characters exist that have levels. Their single most trait isn't being gay. Instead, they are multifaceted. "But aren't there people like Barry?" I'm sure. But that's true about all stereotypes. Someone lives up to the stereotype. That's probably where a lot of stereotypes root themselves, besides in the bigotry of others. Everything that Barry seems to do is fabulous. His backstory, while tragic, is a cookie-cutter backstory. There's nothing in Barry's arc that didn't get telegraphed from the beginning of the story. I guess the same could be said of Meryl Streep's Dee Dee Allen. I get that Meryl has a very devoted community and that it almost seems blasphemous to comment at all negatively on the work of Ms. Streep. But her musical characters (I'm basing this entirely off of Mamma Mia!) don't exactly shock me. Dee Dee is an archetype. Heck, almost everyone in this movie is an archetype. There's no actual character work in this movie. It's all tropes and archetypes with music. That's not challenging to me. Considering that the movie is here to challenge, why would the same old thing done again be so challenging?
The Prom is a message movie. It should be. Great art challenges its audience. A message, seemingly by definition, should challenge its audience to change its mind. There's nothing actually challenging in this film. I've rarely seen a movie scream, "I'm right, so deal with it!" louder than The Prom. And this is where character work comes into the story. The one character who actually kind of works is Emma, who might or might not be the protagonist. A protagonist is the one who has the goal and does things to change her environment. Emma has the most to gain or lose according to the plot. But very little time in the movie actually devoted to Emma. Emma, played by Jo Ellen Pellman, is kind of subservient to the notion that we haven't really heard of Ms. Pellman. (She's a Cincinnati girl, so she gets points from that alone.) Instead, we're focused on the celebrities in the movie, most notably Meryl Streep, James Corden, and Keegan-Michael Key. Yes, these characters have arcs and goals, but the stakes are really low for them. Dee Dee and Barry are already trying to do the right thing, but they are doing it for the wrong reason. When they realize that it is for the right reason, that's when they become heroic. That's pretty low stakes right there. Keegan-Michael Key, starts the story pretty heroically and ends the story pretty heroically. The only thing that changes is that he has a relationship at the end that doesn't really make a ton of sense. (I hope I'm not more ageist than I think I am.) But Emma has everything to lose. Her life is a mess and these people seem to be making it worse.
But Emma's personality is way too go-with-the-flow. Emma should be the center of this movie, but she's kind of treated as a Macguffin. Emma's happiness is key to the whole story. But Emma is excited to have these people fight for her. She's way too optimistic for things to work out. When she's hurt, it is genuine hurt, but it really doesn't cause her to have agency. Even when she says she's going to take on the battles herself, she really keeps on delegating it to the actors from Broadway. Emma needs to be the hero of this story, but she's completely passive to much larger personalities. That's where the movie completely falls on its face. Emma didn't do much to change the outcome of what happened. Instead, she leaned heavily into people who had only a tertiary investment in the story. It's really a weird call.
Why is Nicole Kidman in the movie? I get why you would hire Nicole Kidman. She's great. We just started The Undoing. Don't spoil it for me more than it already has been spoiled. I'm saying...her character has nothing to do in this movie. It's almost as if Nicole Kidman was visiting her friends on set and they just asked her to stick around. They even gave her a song. That's fine. But she has no investment in this story. She's kind of one of the spoiled actors, but then she really isn't that out of touch with everyone in the story. I mean, I get why Trent Oliver is there. He's there to be comic relief to the already abundant amount of comic relief characters in the story. Also, he's there to have varying degrees of intellect. Sometimes, he's super dumb. Sometimes, he's somewhat wise. But he's also super judgmental. It's just that this movie needs a few characters and it gave us too many characters, a lot of them who have nothing to do.
But the biggest disappointment of the group is Ryan Murphy. Ryan Murphy isn't my favorite. He's very It right now, which is good for him. I loathed Glee. I liked American Horror Story. But the one thing that I kind of got out of Ryan Murphy is the fact that he will push the envelope. He's kind of daring in his creations, but nothing in this movie feels...special? It feels actually kind of vapid. Like, this feels like the fan draft of a script and everyone just seems to embrace it. Again, I love seeing Broadway shows, but a lot of those shows don't translate out to make the greatest movies? That's what kind of feels like it is going on here. It feels like a sanitary version of what should be way gutsier. I'm actually mad that Ryan Murphy's name is on this. Like, do this movie, but do something amazing with it. Instead, it just feels like another movie that I will forget over time.
I really didn't like this movie, guys. I never got to the point of hate watching it, but it is just constantly filled with disappointments and missteps. There was an opportunity there to make something amazing and instead, we just got judgey garbage. (I never went on my litany about how Kerry Washington's character was the most lightswitch character since Anakin Skywalker, but know that's on my heart.)
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.