The Prom

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Meryl Streep and James Corden in The Prom.
Meryl Streep and James Corden in The Prom.
Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Netflix


4/5 Stars


A group of down-on-their-luck Broadway stars shake up a small Indiana town as they rally behind a teen who just wants to attend prom with her girlfriend.


If your matric dance was cancelled this year, why not live vicariously through the twirly teens of The Prom, Ryan Murphy's latest addition to the Netflix catalogue.

The film adaptation of a Broadway play, it's a glittery spectacle complete with theatre drama, a beautiful message of inclusivity and Meryl Streep in her most perfect diva form. If your heart beats Hairspray, Kinky Boots and West Side Story, then The Prom will scratch that jazz hands itch.

While it's all sparkle, song and dance, the story is quite heavy. Emma – a gay high schooler – just wants to take her girlfriend to prom, but the school body vehemently opposes it. A group of washed-up, self-obsessed Broadway actors catch wind of her dilemma and decide to travel to Emma's small town to try and help her out – although not entirely out of the goodness of their hearts.

The film's biggest draws are its star line-up – Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman (*squeal in Moulin Rouge*), Kerry Washington and Keegan-Michael Key – and the sweet breakout performance of Jo Ellen Pellman. While they're all great in their respective scenes, their star power can sometimes overcrowd each other, especially with Corden. He doesn't know how to blend in the background when he needs to. It's clear he loves the limelight just a little too much and tries to dominate every scene. Between him and Streep, you're not sure who's the biggest diva, but, on the other hand, it kind of works in their respective characters' favour.

A surprise was the romance between Streep and Key – a rare onscreen match not often seen in Hollywood productions. Despite an age difference of more than 20 years, they had touching chemistry and Key's song of adoration to her career was incredibly moving. It sort of sums up part of the film's theme – a love letter to theatre and its importance as an escape from the world. Although, at times, it comes off as pretentious, inflating the egos of those in the industry. But do you expect anything less from Broadway?

As for the central theme of the musical, it can be quite gut-wrenching to think that in many countries around the world, including South Africa, families reject their children for loving someone of the same gender. The play also tackles some of the roots of this prejudice against the LGBTQI community, including with a playful song about Jesus preaching love above all else that's weirdly respectful to the religion.

Pellman also plays Emma with charming candour and is full of sunshine, and you just want to protect the cute lesbian from all the hate, crying right alongside her. I did, however, find her onscreen girlfriend, played by Ariana DeBose, a bit wooden in her performance and not too believable as a teenager in love. Originally, Ariana Grande was going to fill the role, but unfortunately there were scheduling conflicts and I believe she would have delivered a much better performance with her youthful enthusiasm and stunning voice.

Regardless of these small nitpicks, The Prom is endearing, fun, lets you tap out of reality for a while and you can sing and dance your feelings and prejudice away. You'd have to really, really love musicals though. And if Streep and Kidman in sequins don't excite you on a spiritual level, rather give this a skip and opt for the Christmassy notes of Jingle Jangle for something a little more modern.

If only we could sing and dance prejudice away in real life.



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