‘The Prom’ review: Netflix’s all-star Broadway musical is a gruelling watch

When the movie is over, you feel bad: bad that so much money was spent on the film

Ryan Murphy’s latest Netflix release, The Prom, is the longest film of all time. That may not technically be true – its runtime is 2 hours 12 minutes – but emotionally it’s true. Watching this musical feels, in more ways than one, like a prison sentence.

Boasting a cast that includes Meryl Streep, James Corden and, catastrophically miscast, Nicole Kidman, The Prom is based on a stage musical of the same name, about Emma Nolan, a teenage girl forbidden from going to the prom at her Indiana school because she is gay. Streep, Kidman and Corden, playing Broadway actors down on their luck, champion Emma’s cause as a way of generating positive publicity for themselves.

Generally criticising actors’ accents in films can be futile. However, a few minutes into The Promand a spectacularly bad American accent comes hurtling out of James Corden’s mouth. That no one prevented it from making it into the final edit can only be depressing testament to Corden’s clout in the industry.

This oversight aside, however, the first chunk of The Prom is perfectly good: the songs aren’t bad, it’s often laugh-out-loud, and Meryl Streep’s in it. If it were about 28 minutes long there wouldn’t be much wrong. But then it goes on – and on, and on… and on.

James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, Meryl Streep in ‘The Prom’. Credit: Alamy / Melinda Sue Gordon / Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

Corden’s portrayal of Barry is over-the-top – about 13 times he claps, swivels around, and says something like “Here’s what you’re gonna do” before giving his scene partner a feisty motivational speech that tends to involve them changing their clothes.

One or two of the songs, including a heinous number that Kidman sings called ‘Give It Some Zazz’, should be criminal offences. Sadly, as is often the case, the musical tends to be best when no one is singing: some of Streep’s delivery is, unsurprisingly, award-worthy, and Corden still does a good cry.

Jo Ellen Pellman, who plays Emma, has a smile that lights up the screen. This means, unfortunately, that when her world is supposed to be falling down, she looks as though she has just been told she’s won the lottery.

As a film championing the rights of the LGBTQ+ community – and anyone who faces persecution – the film is of course on the right side of history, and will doubtless be embraced by scores of people. But its message is about as subtle as a kick in the face, and – spoiler – it is never anything other than totally certain that the goodies will triumph over the baddies.

When the homophobic mother of Alyssa, Emma’s girlfriend, sees the two kissing at the end of the film, she is beaming, converted away from the dark side. But this isn’t how life works. It isn’t how people work. It may in fact be damaging to suggest otherwise.

Numerous reviews will describe the film as ‘feel-good’. But the truth is that when all 132 minutes have slumped over the finish line, you feel bad: bad that so much money was spent on the film; bad that no one told Corden about his accent; and bad for the people who wrote ‘Give It Some Zazz’.

Details

  • Director: Ryan Murphy
  • Starring: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman
  • Released: December 4 (Netflix)
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