Director Ryan Murphy adapts a Broadway play in Netflix’s The Prom. Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin provide the screenplay from their 2018 Broadway musical of the same name. Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep), and Barry Glickman (James Corden) are New York City stage stars with a crisis on their hands: their expensive new Broadway show titled Eleanor is a significant flop that has suddenly flat-lined their careers. Meanwhile, in small-town Indiana, high school student Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman) is experiencing a very different kind of heartbreak. Despite the support of the high school Principal Tom Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key), Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington), the head of the PTA, has banned her from attending the prom with her girlfriend.
Unbeknownst to Mrs. Greene, her daughter Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) is Emma’s girlfriend. Dee Dee and Barry decide that Emma’s predicament is the perfect cause to help resurrect their public images. They hit the road with Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman) and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells), another pair of cynical actors looking for a professional lift.
I’ve been a fan of Ryan Murphy since his work on the show Popular way back in 1999. Ten years later, when I saw the pilot for Glee, I knew that the director would do a full-fledged musical one day. One of the things people are always surprised to learn about me is that I have a soft spot for musicals, so naturally, I was looking forward to The Prom.
The moment the film’s opening number “Changing Lives” ended, I know I was in for a fun time. Sung with delightful moxie by Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Corden) put a smile on my face. Arguably one of the great actresses of all time, Streep can walk through a role like Dee Dee with ease. Similarly, James Corden, who was blessed with gab’s gift, is having the time of his life, portraying Barry. One of the things I loved about Corden’s performance is the film never makes Barry overly flamboyant or uses his lifestyle choice for a cheap joke. Barry has his own issues just as everyone else in the world; he just happens to be gay. In fact, I found myself able to relate to a portion of Barry’s arc naturally that I won’t give away.
One of the film’s biggest surprises for me was discovering that comedian Keegan-Michael Key has a singing voice. He delivers one of my favorite numbers in the movie “We Look to You”. I must also mention the “Love Thy Neighbor” performance by Andrew Rannells character of Trent Oliver, which I’m sure sounds fantastic on stage. Generally, all of the cast are given a moment to shine. Still, its newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman as Emma is indeed the film’s heart.
Emma is cute as a button, and Pellman brings out the confidence in the character. I love that Ryan Murphy didn’t go well with a known name for the role, which may have hampered the final effect. The emotional arc that Pellman delivers during the closing moments of the film’s first act broke my heart. I also enjoyed the emerging relationship and chemistry that she shares with Alyssa (Ariana DeBose).
For the most part, I enjoyed everyone in The Prom. However, I did find Kerry Washington’s portrayal as Mrs. Greene a bit flat. Perhaps it’s because I’ve become accustomed to seeing the lovely Washington portray strong women, and representing an antagonist just wasn’t her strong suit. The script never paints the character as a full-on bigot. Instead, Mrs. Greene is more out of touch. Angie Dickinson and Mrs. Greene’s roles should’ve been swapped by the actress portraying them, as I feel that Nicole Kidman would’ve brought the needed venom to the part.
In contrast, Washington’s Black Girl Magic would’ve been better suited for Angie. The Prom has a run time of 2 hours and fifteen minutes, and some viewers may have an issue with the length. Nevertheless, fans of musicals and those who enjoy Ryan Murphy’s directing style will find something to enjoy in The Prom.
With its lively acting, top tapping musical numbers, and timely message Netflix’s adaptation of The Prom is worth a look. The film reminds us that Prom is a high school tradition that everyone should be to attend, no matter who you love.
Final Grade B+
The Prom is streaming on Netflix now in addition to showing in select theaters