Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Prom

The Prom
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Released December 11, 2020 (Netflix)

Not every place in America is the same, and there are actually some very substantial differences that exist between, for instance, big cities and rural towns. The inhabitants of those two general categories often find themselves at odds, with pejorative attitudes presuming the worst of the other, labeling the former as coastal elites or haughty liberals and the latter as unevolved and close-minded. Presuming any superiority over people from somewhere else is never a smart approach, and, even if an extended interaction doesn’t come to a positive end, it’s likely that both parties can learn plenty from taking the time to truly understand each other.

After their Eleanor Roosevelt-centric Broadway musical opens to negative reviews, actors Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Corden) realize that they need to do something big to invigorate their flailing careers. With the help of two other actors searching for success, Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman) and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells), they find the perfect cause: a teenage lesbian, Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman), whose desire to bring a female date to her Indiana prom has resulted in the event getting cancelled. The Broadway stars board a bus to head to Emma’s small town, where they encounter a variety of strong-willing personalities, including the sympathetic principal (Keegan Michael-Key) and the unflinching PTA president (Kerry Washington) intent on maintaining the supposed values of her town above all else.

This film is based on the Tony-nominated musical that opened on Broadway in 2018. The main roles here, aside from Emma and another student, Alyssa Greene (Ariana DeBose), have been given to big names. The presence of such talent is certainly impressive, but it also feels unnecessary, since, just as their characters do without meaning to when they storm a town far from New York with different ways of operating, they – and their reputations – tend to dominate scenes in a way that doesn’t feel right. Kidman in particular feels like a strange choice given her minimal role, and this might have been a better opportunity to allow less-known performers to show off what they could do.

Fortunately, Pellman, in her first film role after a few TV gigs and considerable theater experience, delivers a fantastic performance that really serves as the heart of this film. There’s an authenticity both to the character and her story that shines through despite the presence of so many other egos. The music is fun and the sets and costumes are great to look at, assisting a narrative that feels like it might work better on stage than in this cinematic setting. It may not have the same spirit as director Ryan Murphy’s TV series “Glee,” but this film is decent entertainment that feels enlivening and enjoyable, tackling bigotry in society in an immutable and flamboyant manner.


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