Film review: The Prom

Linda Marric enjoys a high school musical with a queer theme - with some reservations


Glee and American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy has had a busy couple of years even by his own standards. Having signed a five year deal with Netflix for a reported $300 million, Murphy has so far produced a number of projects which haven’t exactly set the world on fire. Amongst those projects already available to enjoy on the streaming platform are the classic era series Hollywood, the Sarah Paulson vehicle Nurse Ratched and the rather tame adaptation of Mart Crowley’s iconic play The Boys In The Band.

Murphy’s latest project however is a return to form for one of the hardest-working men in Hollywood. Starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and James Corden, The Prom is a vividly coloured, smart and infectiously upbeat musical with a punchy queer theme. Based on a true story from 2010, it follows a troupe of self-obsessed theatre stars who descend on a small conservative community in support of a high school girl (newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman) who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom.

Freshly off stage after the premiere of their new play about Eleanor Roosevelt, shallow Broadway stars Dee Dee Allen (Streep) and Barry Glickman (Corden) are dismayed to find out that the play is a dud. Canned by almost every critic in town, the two must salvage what is left of their careers by any means necessary. The answer comes when Angie Dickinson (Kidman), a down-on-her-luck chorus girl suggests that they might want to take up a cause célèbre to help elevate their status in the public eye.


Enter Emma Nolan (an impressive turn by Pellman), a gay teenager from a small Indiana town who has been making headlines after her high school prom was cancelled to stop her from bringing her girlfriend as a date. All hell breaks loose when Dee Dee, Barry and a group of their equally flamboyant friends take it upon themselves to help Emma, but they have a tough opponent in the shape of conservative PTA director Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington) who also happens to be the mother of Emma girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose). Meanwhile Dee has caught the eye of handsome school principle Tom (Keegan-Michael Key) who has confessed his lifetime admiration for her.


Murphy presents an admittedly flawed modern musical which has at the heart of it a touching story about equality and positive representation. Granted the story feels a little meandering in places, but Murphy et al have ultimately done a good job in bringing a delightfully camp production with some very catchy musical numbers.

Streep is in her element as the shallow Broadway diva trying to garner sympathy and popularity in all the wrong places. She offers Dee Dee as a comically overbearing, shallow and spoilt star whose calculated machinations eventually lead her on the route to redemption. For his part, Corden does what comes to him naturally. He sings, dances and  delivers some of the funniest punchlines of the film.

Those who have remained unconvinced by Murphy’s body of work so far won’t find much here to make them reconsider, but on the whole this is a joyous, and beautifully executed musical which does exactly what it is expected from it.

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