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Before I begin, I should probably add some context to my review; when I settled onto the sofa to watch this film, wearing pyjamas and thriving purely on adrenaline, end-of-term-serotonin and three hours of sleep (deadline day is, of course, a highlight of every student’s calendar) it’s safe to say I was very easily pleased. Also, as much as I hate to conform to a gay stereotype, I do bloody love a musical. So, I’m very biased and I was probably not in a state to judge a multi-million-dollar Hollywood production. But here goes anyway.
As a musical and piece of entertainment, The Prom was incredible. The choreography and the singing (Meryl Streep’s extravagant and self-centred number ‘It’s not about me’ was my personal favourite) were splendid; even someone who isn’t a musical fan would struggle not to pop a smile or tap a foot along to the catchy soundtrack. However, as a narrative and a film, The Prom disappointed. The upbeat, catchy songs, spectacular colour palette and all-star cast ultimately masked a cliché, predictable plot in a movie that cared more for its aesthetic appeal than its characterisation.
When the opening number began (a glitzy, humorous track called ‘Changing Lives’) and I heard James Corden’s camp American accent for the first time, I was slightly mortified. However, as I braced myself for an offensive, stereotypical portrayal of a gay male character, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, Corden’s Barry Glickman is exuberantly camp, overdramatic and occasionally annoying, but he brings the character to life as a three-dimensional person, who is defined by so much more than his sexual orientation. Corden demonstrates that underneath his bold, camp personality, Barry just wants to be loved by his friends and family, although as with many ensemble films, the character development does get a little murky. For example, Barry’s narrative sees him attempt to repair his turbulent relationship with his estranged parents, and whilst Corden’s performance in these scenes is emotional and convincing, the scenes are quite short and feel underdeveloped, so they don’t do justice to the narratives of some LGBTQ+ people, especially in regards to ‘coming out’ to their family, which is at best a nerve-wracking experience.
Admittedly, the acting is unquestionably brilliant, especially that of newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman, who portrays Emma, a brave yet outcast character who continually battles discrimination for her sexual orientation. Emma professes that she ‘doesn’t want to blaze a trail, be a symbol or a cautionary tale’; she is no gay figurehead for the movie to rely on, but a human individual who just wants ‘to go to prom like any other kid’. Emma is one of many characters who are challenged and evolve throughout the movie, as she struggles to continue her fight to take her girlfriend to the High School prom.
Although these character arcs are satisfying, they are rather predictable; I was especially disappointed with the arc of the homophobic head-of-the-PTA played by Kerry Washington, whose limited screen time rendered her character development a little unbelievable. Without giving too much away, everything that is wrong with each of the characters is corrected by the end of the movie: if they’re bigoted and homophobic then by the end they’re accepting and inclusive, if they’re obnoxious and despised at the beginning then by the finale they are considerate and loveable…well you get the idea. Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, it is explicitly clear what each character wants and how they must change, so the plot becomes predictable.
However, despite a messy plot and some issues with characterisation, given the awful year that 2020 has been, The Prom serves its purpose as a feel-good piece of entertainment to provide that bit of serotonin that our lives have been severely lacking. The Prom never sets out to be a hard-hitting drama or twisty thriller, it is a heartwarming, easy watch which never fails to put a smile on your face. The message of the film is made abundantly clear in the final dance when the cast all boldly declare that they ‘just wanna dance’ with their respective partners; The Prom is a technicolor extravaganza of love and acceptance – both of oneself and others. Despite its faults, Murphy’s Prom succeeds in bringing Broadway joy into the home, and it comes at no better time than when live theatre is at its most inaccessible.