the prom (2020)

Manila, 13 December—Sure, it’s Ryan Murphy, but The Prom on Netflix is pretty enjoyable, with a few catchy tunes and a hella talented power cast, which includes Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Kerry Washington.


Need I say more?


First things first—what a fun watch. A bit long at 2 hours and 20, but all those songs and all that prod really contributed to that run time. My favorite track is the trailer track It’s Time to Dance, which is hella sticky.

When I first read about who was going to be on it, my mind sorta exploded. I’ve missed Meryl from Mamma Mia and Nicole from Moulin Rouge, and I was so stoked with the idea of seeing them singing on my screen again.

The movie is about Emma (openly queer actress Jo Ellen Pellman), who just wants to go to prom with her girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose, also queer)—quite the controversial move for their conservative Indiana town. Determined to uphold their town’s “beliefs”, their school’s Parent-Teacher Association, headed by Alyssa’s mom (Kerry Washington), moves to cancel prom, which prompts their school principal (Keegan Michael Key) to escalate it to the state attorney, who then rules that the school must conduct an “inclusive prom.”

The issue goes viral on Twitter—which is how it reaches the other half of the story. Dee Dee (Streep) and Barry (James Corden) had just opened their show on Broadway about the Roosevelts, only to be met by bad reviews. Enter their colleague Angie (Kidman) and the insufferable bartender/Juilliard grad Trent (Andrew Rannells), who commiserate with them. Aching for a “cause” to save their careers, the four troop to Indiana, with a single-minded mission of “saving” Emma’s prom.

Admittedly, the writing is all over the place. It felt like the writers got a bit too excited and/or intimidated that all these Big Names are on it and that there was pressure to give all of them fully fleshed out storylines. My biggest frustration is that Dee Dee’s storyline as a has-been Broadway star was completely disconnected from the central story, which is Emma and Alyssa’s prom. Her protracted love story angle with Mr Hawkins the school principal, who is a big fan of her Broadway work, was interesting on its own, but looking back, it ultimately had no bearing on the main story.

Corden’s story as a young gay kid who missed prom, and even Kidman’s side story as a chorus girl who was often invisible and unacknowledged, both managed to find their connection to the main story. Kidman’s role as listener to Emma’s brokenheartedness, and her patient effort to lure Emma out of her shell (via a Chicago-inspired performance, no less) was such a delight.

Emma’s song to other queer kids was truly heartfelt too—and the movie has many of these moments. It’s just that taken together, I think they could have made a harder-working 2 hours with a better, more tightly knit story. Had they just made Meryl and team recently unemployed drama teachers who were fired for staging gay plays in their conservative schools, it would have made better sense that they’d be invested in a student’s prom cancellation.

One of the more awkward numbers was Trent pontificating about religious hypocrisy in the mall—which was too on the nose and literal for me, if you know what I mean. I’m not quite sure if the movie is really taking that stand, or if it were poking fun on the inherent holier-than-thou-ness of those who want to preach to “bigots”. My main takeaway there is that the way we’re talking down on people who disagree with us is hurting our causes. Certainly, there are better—and more understandable—ways of communicating without alienating those we are in conversation with.

Another odd thing that did not sit quite well with me was how they made the main villain in the PTA a black woman. It was all optics—nothing about the Greenes would have been different had they casted a white tandem. It was so strange, given BLM. The change of heart was also quite sudden, if not unbelievable, but then again, it’s a musical.

In all, what a breakout performance for the two queer ladies in the lead. Jo Pellman certainly held her own performing with Corden and Kidman, and her chemistry with Ariana DeBose was off the charts. I look forward to seeing them again in more musicals!

In summary:

Thank you for making it this far.