Here’s a musical about the need to find common ground, that is itself divisive. An adaptation of the 2018 Broadway hit, it revolves around a high school where it’s not OK to be gay. If you hate cheesy glitz, The Prom will make you want to puke into the nearest punch bowl. For the rest of us? It’s time to party.
Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden and Andrew Rannells play Dee Dee, Angie, Barry and Trent, middle-aged Broadway folk who hope to revitalise their careers by taking up the cause of a Midwestern “little lesbian” who just wants to take a girl to prom.
The four wannabe fairy godmothers say they want to help 16-year-old Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman) defy the socially conservative PTA. Of course they just want to help themselves but on the night of the prom something horrible happens which gives Dee Dee, in particular, a new perspective.
We know Streep has a smashing voice and is fleet of foot. The revelation is the heat between her and Keegan-Michael Key, playing the wide-eyed, musical theatre-loving principal. Streep has played opposite younger male actors before. But here there’s a 22-year age gap and it’s proper lust. What a cool move on the part of director Ryan Murphy. In the show Dee Dee and Mr Hawkins are peers; the landscape navigated by the film’s odd couple is new.
Two other fizzy turns are worth mentioning. Pellman looks like a young Elisabeth Moss, right down to her dutiful-but-slightly-deranged smile. While Ariana DeBose, as Emma’s love interest, Alyssa, is a cheerleader with a poignantly non-cheerful core. It’s great that both Pellman and DeBose are out and proud, though it would be nuts to suggest this is what makes their performances authentic.
Some critics have objected to the casting of a heterosexual to play Barry, a man who, in his own words, is “gayer than a bucket of wigs”. The problem with Corden isn’t his sexual orientation, it’s his limited range as an actor, though he’s not that bad (he’s rather sweet, when just bopping around). This camp-tastic extravaganza may not be as deep or rousing as Hamilton, but it’s much smarter than The Greatest Showman or Mamma Mia!
The songs are great fun — It’s Not About Me is a self-reflexive gem and the high-energy Love Thy Neighbor unpicks cant with style. Murphy wants to touch mainstream viewers and tickle them pink. Mission accomplished.
131 mins, 12. In cinemas from today and on Netflix from December 11