Mainstream musicals have been used to address a lot of important issues over the years. Poverty, aids, media influence, street gangs, war, religion, gender stereotyping, child cruelty, historical bias, racial inequality, nazism. It hasn’t often though, perhaps surprisingly, dealt with gay rights. LBGT characters are not that uncommon but a song and dance story all about prejudice against homosexuals is not something a wide audience will have seen. Well, the streaming platform with the widest audience of all is about to change that.
The Prom is not a perfect film, I certainly didn’t love it as much as I have recent musicals both on and off screen. It has none of the sophistication of Hamilton or the charm of La La Land. It’s message, while running the risk of getting lost among some of the subplots, comes through strongly though and it is hard not to get swept up in that. This is a real celebration of what it is to be a gay teenager and even though I am neither of those things I welled up watching it. If you are one or the other, let alone both, then I think this could really speak to you.
The story initially centres around four failing Broadway actors who are looking for a cause to help their PR and this part of the story felt gimmicky. When they decide that cause is the plight of a young lesbian whose high school prom has been cancelled so that she can’t turn up with her girlfriend the film gains its valuable focus. Of the quartet of musical stars two are gay men so some of their own previous experiences play into the plot too.
Curiously the one who’s past is fully explored here is not played by the actor who is actually gay. Book of Mormon star Andrew Rannells has a great moment with a song that evokes the name of Jesus to challenge homophobia, which will joyously offend Christian fundamentalists everywhere, but he is definitely playing second fiddle to James Corden. I’m not a Corden hater; I saw him on stage in One Man Two Guvnors where he was brilliant and I liked him in Into the Woods, Begin Again and Gavin & Stacey but I’m not sure this is the best casting here. Seeing him camping it up as he travels to Middle America to turn someone’s life around is like watching Queer Eye with the straight guy. It’s like having Jonathan Van Ness played by Frankie Howard (or if you are under forty – Michael McIntrye).
The rest of foursome is rounded out by Nicole Kidman in a role that is a little beneath her, and Meryl Streep in a movie that might be a little beneath her. Still, they are having fun and to a lesser extent so are we. Ultimately the movie belongs to Jo Ellen Pellman and her story of a humble young woman who came out and now just wants to go out, even if that means taking the whole country with her.
The Ripley Factor:
When LBGT stories are told by stage musicals; Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Pricilla Queen of the Desert, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Kid, they normally centre on men. In cinema though it is more commonly women. The Prom then both bucks and conforms to some convention. Either way, what we get here is a strong female character that stands as a good role model for teens of whatever sexuality.
Clearly there is her girlfriend too and she has her own inspiring mountains to climb. Even the two Heatherish bullies have their moment to celebrate when they challenge their flawed values, even if their ingrained prejudices only take a verse and two choruses to suddenly fall away.
The Prom is in cinemas now and on Netflix, where it probably better belongs, on Friday.