Friday, December 18, 2020

My Weekend Review: The Prom

Well, that certainly had some Zazz. And I’m not even a musicals person – not that there’s anything wrong with musicals. I was just a writer nerd and not a drama nerd in high school. So my natural affinities go elsewhere. But I do enjoy a good musical, and let me tell you “The Prom” is a good movie musical. And, if you’ll allow this admitted non-aficionado to say so, I think it’s a reminder of what makes people love musicals in the first place.

The story follows a small-town teenage lesbian who makes national news when her school cancels its prom to keep her from bringing her girlfriend as a date, only to be faux-rescued by a troupe of down-on-their-luck Broadway divas looking for a cause to promote along with themselves. Yes, that’s a lot and that’s the point.

I never got a chance to see “The Prom” in the real, live, humans-all-packed-together-in-one-big-room-with-other-humans-performing-on-stage-together theater. But after watching the movie I get the distinct impression that I missed out.

One of the things that makes “The Prom” so good is that it seamlessly adapts to the screen thanks to having an actual storyline – fantastical as it may be at times with its whiplash-inducing redemptive arcs, it’s still a storyline. So, unlike “Cats,” that means it has a raison d’etre other than just looking spectacular live. And that raison is to raise jazz hands against the injustices of high-school bullies and small-minded thinking around being gay.

The other thing that makes “The Prom” good is it leans into the dada-esque absurdity of people breaking out into song and dance over matters mundane and sublime in the middle of an otherwise average day. It’s the kinetic magic of song and dance that helps make this not-your-average high school musical movie really work. Plus, the songs are darn catchy. “Note to self, don’t be gay in Indiana?” Hell, why wasn’t this song written when I was gay in Indiana? It would have explained a lot I ended up learning the hard way.

In many ways this is the more wholesome, fresh-faced cousin to “Glee” (I see what you did there, Ryan Murphy). Whereas that show delighted in its snarky self awareness, “The Prom” deliver on aw-shucks Midwestern earnestness instead.

Alas, yes, this is another story that centers on the collective LGBTQ-specific trauma of both coming out and being out, especially as a teenager. But with a cast this ridiculously talented (Meryl! Nicole! Kerry! Keegan-Michael! Rannells! Tracey freaking Ullman!), you knew they’d squeeze every last drop of emotion from the over-simplified narrative. It also helped that the movie’s stars, out queer actresses Jo Ellen Pellman (as Emma) and Ariana DeBose (As Alyssa), are ridiculously winsome and have a lovely, slightly awkward first love chemistry that really works.

My only true complaint is with James Corden, who is woefully miscast and desperately outgunned in the acting department. First off, he is clearly no Meryl Streep. We’re asked to invest in his emotional arc almost equally as with Emma and Alyssa’s, and let’s face it – the poor fella doesn’t have the range. There also have been criticisms of his performance as gay-face, which I can understand. Though, to be honest, at best his turn as Barry the Broadway Star is low-energy Cameron Tucker cosplay.

What his casting mostly represents is a lost opportunity to cast someone truly fit for the role who could conveyed that fear of rejection for simply who we are that try as we might never entirely goes away as a LGBTQ person. Like, Andrew Rannells would have eaten that role.

In a season of remarkably mainsteam and refreshingly good LGBTQ+ themed representation in entertainment, “The Prom” has earned its place in the list of media that tried its best to save 2020, and possibly even our help heal our little queer hearts. So go to prom this weekend, if you haven’t already or go again and have the fabulous time you wish you had in real life. Happy safe, healthy and righteous weekend, all.


Waffles said...

I saw The Prom on Broadway and it was pretty amazing. At that time, Head Over Heels was also on Broadway, which also centers a lesbian woman. The movie was charming and moving, but it really lacked the charm of the broadway production and I remain extremely mad that they went with big names instead of using the actors who originated the roles. The linked article below explains why that is so hugely problematic.

Carmen San Diego said...

“ low-energy Cameron Tucker cosplay.” is a perfect description of Corden. I liked the main girls but that Love thy Neighbor number was uuugh

The Notorious H.A.M. said...

I usually agree with you, but my reaction when it was over was "Welp, that reeked of 'gay men telling lesbian stories.'" I know this is still happening in America, but if you're going to retell a very familiar story, I feel like you should bring something new to the table. This relied on tropes as worn out as Giuliani's sphincter. For example, there was the sight gag where the celebrities initially mistake a kind of sloppy-looking girl in baggy clothes for the lesbian, the premise of the joke being that this is an easy mistake to make because lesbians are unattractive. I've heard this in some form or another my entire life, frequently from gay men and straight women (or the movies and TV shows they oversee). I'm willing to bet everyone reading this has seen some form of "You're a lesbian? But you're so pretty," on screen or IRL, because the answer to "why did you mistake me for a lesbian?" is invariably "because something about how you look (clothes, hair, shoes, whatever) is unattractive." They use it again, more subtly, when James Corden asks the girl what she wants to wear to prom, she says "a vintage tux," and he talks her into a floofy dress, instead. It shows up everywhere, even from people I admire (I'm looking at you, Tina Fey), but it's a real buzz kill when it shows up in movies that are ostensibly telling lesbian stories.

And speaking of James Corden, 😱...what even was that? How does a Tony-winning actor deliver that performance? What accent was that supposed to be? I was embarrassed for him, because I generally really like him--I couldn't stop cringing.

I'm not saying all this to imply that you're wrong and I'm right. And I know I run the risk of sounding like another tried and true trope, the humorless lesbian (but I counter that it's hard to maintain good humor when the most consistent message you've received about the group you belong to is that they're unattractive). Regardless, I was genuinely surprised at how much I didn't like it.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed it. The actress who played Emma was outstanding. I think they intentionally played with the “who is telling the story” (or picking the clothes) piece — and I liked that she got to rock her tux in the end