Netflix and Ryan Murphy have once again answered our desperate pleas for queer representation in film. The Prom — Broadway musical turned colorful screen explosion — advocates for simple LGBTQ+ rights as high-schooler Emma Nolan, (played by queer actress Jo Ellen Pellman), wants to bring her girlfriend to prom. Having drawn in the ultimate all-star cast, Ryan Murphy created a version of the Broadway musical that feels dated and at times focused more on homophobia than acceptance. As a huge musical theatre fan, the theatrical conventions conveyed on-screen were visually exciting but at times overwhelming. Design elements such as the lighting, cinematography, and costume design were reaching to achieve the larger-than-life Broadway aesthetic. This exaggerated translation to the screen made the film feel like an uphill battle between the saturated color palette and the storytelling.
The songs, while mostly upbeat and enjoyable, felt shoved into the plot — much like the character Alyssa Greene is shoved into the closet by her mother until the end of the film. The incredibly diverse ensemble, as well as seeing BIPOC actors in powerful roles, adds to the overall positive representation this movie presents. The Prom gives audiences around the world the chance to sit down with their homophobic family members to get them to attempt to patiently endure two hours of singing and dancing in an attempt to rid our country of adversity.
The most impressive thing about The Prom is how Ryan Murphy enlisted a quartet of absolute theatre and film all-stars to his cast. Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, and Andrew Rannells play a group of painfully desperate and narcissistic actors who require a little positive publicity. Though this group’s sheer star power is enough of a reason to give this film a chance, none of their performances stood out to me as show-stopping. Meryl Streep, who is always a pleasure to watch, struts around Emma’s school’s PTA meeting as Broadway leading lady Dee Dee Allen in the number, “It’s Not About Me.” Going against the conservative PTA president, Mrs. Greene, played excellently by Kerry Washington, the Broadway stars back Meryl Streep in her charitable facade.
This number is not the first nor the last time that the unmotivated lighting design upstages the actors with its extreme saturation and strobe. Even Streep’s character Dee Dee Allen agrees in this number:
“Join me and we’ll start fighting. Can I get softer lighting?”
The overall composition of these production numbers is dizzying due to the intense lighting choices as well as the circular cinematography choices.
Queer actresses Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana DeBose as Emma Nolan and Alyssa Greene give a truly heartwarming performance in the number “Dance with You.” This song explores the complexities of being queer in an unaccepting town and for Alyssa, living with an unaccepting mother. Though the character Emma receives minimal character development in her song “Just Breathe,” she is a very pleasant and likable character throughout. With little to no depth or chemistry to the most important relationship in the film, these two young queer actresses did what they could with a limited script.
Emma seemingly fosters very close relationships with each of the individual Broadway actors. My favorite out of these platonic relationships was between Emma and Angie, played by Nicole Kidman. Angie Dickinson is a Chicago the Musical life-long chorus girl who has just quit her job to become a full-time queer ally. Emma, in a moment of vulnerability, says to Angie, “I have never felt so alone.” Angie replies, “But you’re not alone. You’re not.” Angie shares the classic “Fosse-girl” story of how it feels to be a scared chorus girl taking on the role of Roxie Hart for the first time. Angie helps Emma find her confidence through the song “Zazz,” which pulls from classical musical theatre tunes like “All That Jazz” from the musical Chicago. Emma and her relationships throughout the film are strong, but unfortunately each character lacks development and depth to an extreme degree.
Films about inclusivity and queer representation are essential in keeping the film industry up-to-date with popular culture. Netflix has somehow released a seemingly dated film in a time where queer rights and representation are becoming commonplace. The choices in casting straight actors in supporting queer roles, as well as the overarching morals that this story attempts to portray, simply have not read well with target audiences. To me, it is unfortunate that we still live in a world where musical movies are being made to advocate for basic LGBTQ+ rights when most musical theatre fans have already decided that they are an essential part of humanity. I question whether this film will impact anyone who has yet to decide where they stand when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. This film was in no way mind-blowing; however, I will let you decide. Will you go to “The Prom” with me?
Movie Review originally published by Allie Posner on Medium