As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the entertainment industry, live theater still is one of the hardest hit sectors. Social distancing measures and restrictions on public gathers have made it impossible to gather in a theater and enjoy a classic broadway musical. Enter: Netflix’s The Prom.
To be clear, The Prom cannot provide the necessary support for the actors and crew that are currently displaced or unemployed by the pandemic (click here to see how you can help with that). Still, Netflix and Director Ryan Murphy manage to give audiences one of the closest experiences to a stage musical with this film.
The Prom follows a struggling group of broadway actors who travel to Indiana to advocate for a teenage girl who is fighting for the right to bring her girlfriend to her school prom. This film has an all-star cast led by Meryl Streep, James Cordon, Nicole Kidman, and Andrew Rannells. The Prom spawns from a 2018 broadway musical of the same name.
As mentioned before, this film’s true strength is its ability to replicate the experience of watching a live musical (as much as possible). Every department, from the production design to the choreography to the directing, works over time to create a show that looks and feels like broadway musical, but, at the same time, expands beyond the limitations of a theatrical set.
Specific examples of this include full musical numbers on the streets of New York and a mall in Indiana. In a theatrical production, the stage designers can only do so much to replicate these locations on a 200 square foot stage. Netflix spares no expense on providing practical locations for these sequences, but the blocking and choreography mimic that of a classic broadway musical.
The music, written by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, is stellar. Every song infuses comedy with classic musical theater style to create coherent and well developed soundtrack. Every song, save for a couple, brings an extravegant musical number to the party. The only fatal mistake was cutting most of The Acceptance Song‘s sequence.
Most of the cast exceptional as well. Meryl Streep (Dee Dee Allen) and Andrew Rannells (Trent Oliver) shine the brightest in their lead roles; however, its relative newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman as Emma Nolan who is the true star of the film. Her uplifting depiction of a teen who’s so comfortable with who she is is an incredible step forward for redefining LGBT characters in film. Pellman has an incredible singing voice and charisma that keeps the audience optimistic despite the awful things her character is put through.
The cast is not 100% perfect. Nicole Kidman does a good job in her role, but the main issue is that her role is too small and unnecessary to justify her inclusion. Her musical numbers fall flat compared to others in the soundtrack. At the end of the day, this crowded film would have benefited from her screen time being diverted to another character.
James Cordon’s Barry Glickman is the biggest draw back for the film. His arc is framed as part of the emotional backbone of the film, but his development is cut short by the lack of screen time in an ensemble cast. Also, a prominent straight man playing a flamboyant gay man feels like a caricature at times. Yet at the same time, his comedic scenes felt at points like it was held back in order to not be “offensive.”
At no point did his role cross a line. Cordon did a fine job in with the emotional heft of the role, but most of the limitations of the character could be resolved by casting a gay actor to portray the role of Glickman. For those of you who have seen Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Titus Andromedon is the perfect blue print for how to do a character like Glickman correctly without worrying about crossing any kind of line.
Overall, this film is well worth the two hour commitment, but just five minutes into The Prom, you won’t regret the decision.
Filmnetic Grade: A
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