Among the sleek, bouncy, insanely infectious musical numbers that are a big part of what makes Ryan Murphy’s “The Prom” such an old-fashioned new-fangled explosion, one of the stopping moments is “Love Thy Neighbor,” which Trent (Andrew Ranels) is the drama queen on Broadway, perched on a distant planet known as the small town of Indiana, singing to a bunch of pure and pious Central American teenagers from James Madison High School. They’re on the mall’s food court, where one of the students tells Trent, “We don’t have a drama program,” which makes Trent click, “That explains your general lack of empathy.”
He’s not kidding. The children are united in forbidding Emma (Joe Ellen Pelman), their senior colleague, from taking her friend Alice (Ariana DeBoss) to the ball; he will give them an extremely captivating lesson in tolerance. The students insist that they are good, kind Christian children who all go to church. But Trent points out that there are a ton of rules they break every day ̵
In other words: received message. From the characters and the audience. Sounds conventional enough, but as the rhythm escalates and the dancing peaks, there’s something in the fun madness click from all of this, the way the song becomes a revival of the gospel in a mall, combined with a shaking choral line that evokes the restraining athletic spirit of Jean Kelly, which makes the message … well drink. Yes! Love your neighbor. It’s a long-held thought that America needs to hear again, and the Prom is an effusive, fast-moving purple delivery system. The film has a universalist spirit, which is embedded in its very form. Vomiting the right things is becoming a carbonated and sophisticated high camp of show business.
As a stage musical, “The Prom,” written by Bob Martin and Chad Begillin, with songs by Begilin and Matthew Sclard, premiered on Broadway in October 2019, where it lasted just under a year. I still couldn’t see it, so I entered the film version cold, but of course I saw “Glee”, the TV music series that elevated Ryan Murphy to the uber brand, and this film is based on the best impulses of this show – the headlong spontaneity of the young earthquake – which combines with what I would characterize as a kind of cathartic squareness. In the last 50 years, you could say that the musical theater itself has come out of the closet, because every number of writers and composers who once had to limit themselves to telling stories in the “right” context no longer needed that. The Prom is a shining example. It’s a musical that tells the story of what intolerance does – the way it tortures and crushes individuals, in this case forcing a gay teenager to hide his love.
Still, if Prom is a proudly liberated musical, it’s also so defiantly square, with an atmosphere that goes back to the studio’s glowing health musicals, that everything reconfigures the meaning of the mainstream. I really enjoyed the inner theatrical knowledge, the discarded PG-13 entertainment and fashion thorns, but in a strange way this is the inner squareness of the Prom – the fact that this now it’s a mass event – it’s the most adventurous thing in it. There are times when the film seems to have rediscovered classic Hollywood for the 21st century.
The starting number is a chic fake. We are on the street in front of the Times Square Theater, where Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep), a legendary and highly supported legend, passed her former great lady from Broadway, and Barry Glickman (James Cordon), her star in a new musical entitled ” Eleanor! ”(Both played by Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt), celebrate the fact that they went through the first night, and think they have a hit. The Life Change show seems like an ironic toast to Broadway in its fullest part: a celebration of this utterly miserable idea of a musical, a delicate misrepresentation served with a shamelessly shiny “showmanship.” But then the actors and the team head to Sardi, where they read the review in The New York Times, which distorts the show like any of these things. He even accuses the actors of “narcissism.” This is a rather cunning joke, because it lets the audience know that the attitude of the dead savages and the lavish cat theater we are about to witness at the Prom is ridiculous in their own way. It is good to giggle not only with him, but with him.
With her career in rags, Dee Dee and Barry grabbing Trent, the bartender-actor, and Angie (Nicole Kidman), the girl of a lifelong chorus and lead lady, who decide to pool their resources and save their shooting stars by get hooked on a social cause. Rejecting world hunger as too great, they embark on the case of Emma, who publishes national news. It seems that her desire to take her prom date and just be who she is has caused a major disruption, as a result of which the PTA, led by the deadly Puritan Mrs. Green (Kerry Washington), canceled the prom. Dee Dee and her crew will go to Indiana to make things right!
This is a deliberately absurd room for fish out of the water, along with Dee Dee and Barry, who plant their theater awards in front of a motel desk employee to get an apartment or (in Barry’s case) a “cabin” that a motel doesn’t start. to have. These neurotically spoiled city dwellers have arrived in a small town where the most fantastic restaurant is the Applebee restaurant. What’s more, they don’t give a flying fig for the cause they’re supposed to be there for! It’s all just a publicity stunt – which sounds like an idea Preston Sturgess would come up with for the Instagram era. The reason it works is that the creators of the Prom, going back to what John Waters presented in the original film Hairspray (1988), invented a liberal film about messages, which sarcastically satirizes films about liberal messages. The Prom is a musical that has its Hollywood nobility and eats it too, it has its high camp and it eats it too. This makes a silly but spicy-tasting dessert.
After Dee Dee and her crew leave for a school meeting, Dee Dee commands the action by singing “It’s Not About Me,” a song so lavish in its self-delusion that it can be the anthem of social justice warriors. Streep delivers it with an opera aplomb that leaves you giggling with joy. The actress has long been known for her classy distortions in “Mamma Mia!” Movies, but no matter how much I respect “Mamma Mia!” As a stage musical, Streep’s character, as it is written, has never been so much. Dee Dee, with her dead vanity and life force of the whole world, is the kind of domineering high priestess of illusion that Streep can sink into, and she does. Especially when Tom Hawk (Keegan-Michael Key), the handsome high school principal, turns out to be a major fan of hers. Dee Dee from Streep is also as attached to admiring her as Blanche Dubois, but with a brass awareness of his own shelf life. She is the spirit of the embodied theatrical celebrity.
There’s no denying that the Prom, like Glee and the High School Musical movies, is on some level a deliberately assembled package of shiny happy movie and music clichés. Still, Murphy, working with cinematographer Matthew Libatica, gives the film an intoxicating visual scope and has enchanting wit in the dialogue. “I had to file for bankruptcy after my own production of ‘Scandal Notes,'” says Corden Barry’s sad sack, “and in 12 words we see the actor’s life and his failed dream.”
Cordon may be criticized in some neighborhoods for portraying Barry as a gay stereotype, but like Christopher Guest in Waiting for Guffman, he delves so deeply into the character’s flickering insecurity that it gives him a three-dimensional nature. He is mentally funny and touching. Streep is sensational, and Kee brings disarming sincerity in his role as a lonely lifelong high school student who, when Dee Dee is around, seems to wake up from sleep. He took her to Applebee and sang “We Look to You” for being a Broadway fan who was so ingenious that he was almost shocking. Nicole Kidman, a self-radiating heat, gets a big number, “Zazz”, which is on a foske, and while she does it charmingly, at least for me it’s a little awful to see Bob Foss become a brand / meme / signifier.
The Prom is a great film about The Two Americas, and part of its brilliance is that it portrays the conservative Midwestern with dignity, even though it attacks the impulses of bigotry. On the issue of intolerance, the film does not give a quarter, but separates the sinner from sin. Joe Ellen Pelman, who sings in an excited soprano, endows Emma with a trembling radiance, a desire to be herself, which is defiantly non-political and in a funny way makes the film non-political. She and Alice, Mrs. Green’s daughter, are not “fighting for the right” to attend a high school dance. The film takes this right for granted. They fight for the right to love and to be loved like everyone else. The time for the Prom feels karmically right because it’s about the two Americas coming together. Whatever the fate of the movie – just another movie on Netflix? Or an Oscar contender? (I would believe one) – this is a story that is worth telling and that we need to hear.