Review: “The Prom” is Packed with Zazz, Sequins and Spectacular Designs

This review may contain spoilers to The Prom.

Edited by Toni Stanger.

When I was in high school, I didn’t take my girlfriend to the prom. Instead, I made a deal with my then best friend. I will take him to mine; he will take me to his. It wasn’t actually forbidden for me to bring my girlfriend, but it was surely frowned upon. Even when one of my friends didn’t have a partner and wanted to dance  with her female friend, my teacher didn’t think it was suitable. 

In The Prom, Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman) is way braver than I was. As a young woman from a very conservative Indiana high school, the teenager fights the PTA board, led by Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington, American Son), to let her take her girlfriend, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose, Hamilton), to the prom. The PTA board remains determined, however, even with the support of school principal Mr. Hawkins (Keegan Michael Key, Keanu), and the dance is completely canceled. 

Suddenly, Dee Dee Allen (Meryl StreepMamma Mia!) steps in – once a great Broadway star, today a spoiled, selfish actress who lives on unemployment checks. Together with Barry Glickman (James CordenSuperintelligence), the co-star of the canceled yet very expensive new Broadway show, as well as Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman, The Goldfinch), and Tent Oliver (Andrew Rannells, A Simple Favor) – two actors also looking for their big break – the group jumps on a bus to Indiana. Under the guise of helping Emma, the actors aim to show themselves as kind, helpful, selfless people – but everything changes when their plan is discovered, and, in the end, the actors find themselves determined to give Emma the best inclusive prom.

The Prom, created by Ryan Murphy (Ratched, The Boys in The Band), a veteran of everything campy, is packed with zazz, sequins, self-love, and everything that shines – including a five-star cast. The new Netflix original is based on the Broadway musical by Matthew Sklar and a book by Bob Martin with the same title. The production is utterly sweet and uplifting. The audience receives an interesting encounter between precocious actors and a young woman who just wants to be accepted for who she is. If you’re afraid you’ll only see LGBTQ+ characters being mistreated by self-absorbed characters who believe they’re the world’s moon and stars, don’t be. Murphy balances it exceptionally and, in the second act, displays the possibility of change and making amends. 

THE PROM (L to R) JAMES CORDEN as BARRY GLICKMAN, NICOLE KIDMAN as ANGIE DICKINSON, MERYL STREEP as DEE DEE ALLEN, KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY as MR. HAWKINS in THE PROM. Cr. MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX © 2020

Everything about the set design is spectacular. The creators use every surface they can possibly use and create an atmosphere of the prom that we, as an audience, can really feel. It may bring a little bit of nostalgia for older audiences and a breath of fresh air for youngsters. Lou Eyrich, the costume designer who has worked with Murphy plenty of times (most recently on Ratched), has outdone herself in creating the characters’ costumes. Each person, be it Dee Dee, Angie, or Barry, screams sequins and glitter. Simultaneously, despite the use of the same materials such as said glitter, each outfit reflects the personality of the character. Dee Dee’s attributes are shawls; meanwhile, Angie loves a soft, flat hat, typically with a visor. One of my favorite outfits is Emma’s modern baby-blue suit in the final scene. In pair with Alyssa’s shiny prom dress, the sapphic duo becomes a powerhouse and charms the audience in front of the TVs and the rest of the cast. 

The performances in The Prom wary from dizzying to just okay. Streep’s Dee Dee is stunning. As the actress who needs to re-learn how to be humble, she’s mostly paired with Key’s Hawkins. The school principal has been a long-time fan of Dee Dee’s work, but suddenly the man clashes with the reality of her “tarnished brand.” After always idolising her, Hawkins realizes she’s truly a spoilt brat. The newcomer, Pellman, is absolutely spectacular. My personal favorite song is her performance of Zazz. In a singing duet with Nicole Kidman’s Angie, both actresses are unstoppable, dancing on the stairs and emanating the titular zazz. 

THE PROM (L to R) NICOLE KIDMAN as ANGIE DICKINSON,JO ELLEN PELLMAN as EMMA in THE PROM. Cr. MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX © 2020

Each song, written by Chad Beguelin, has a contemporary feel that perfectly fits Emma’s situation. One of my other favorites, besides Zazz, is Love Thy Neighbor by Rannells in the mall scene, and Unruly Heart sang by Pellman’s character in a highly emotional scene that’s also a standout song/performance. Emma ultimately decides to come forward and address the discrimination she faced in her high school. While the teenager sings the song, the audience can see all the people from the LGBTQ+ community watching the video, and discover how the words and the voice affect them. Further into the plot, we see some of them again during an inclusive prom organized by the film characters for Emma. 

In the opposite corner, there is Mrs. Greene, the leader of the PTA board and the loudest opponent of Emma’s “life choices.” Kerry Washington gives a great performance as a conservative yet caring mother. The actress touches the viewers’ hearts when her on-screen daughter, Alyssa, excellently portrayed by DeBose, comes out to her. We obtain a very relevant and profoundly personal moment that is deeply authentic. Instead of hate or exaggerated optimism, we observe one parent’s very coherent reaction in which there is a promise of further serious talks yet evident acceptance.

The person who doesn’t feel right here is Corden. Although he really tries and repeatedly shows it, the actor and talk show host feels off when amongst other cast members. Barry’s character, a gay man who never got a chance to go to the prom, is exaggerated in the negative sense of the word. The idea is touching; however, Corden misplaces his attention, and, in effect, the audience misses out on a great character that was first introduced in the Broadway musical.

The Prom is a heartwarming picture with catchy songs that will make you smile. At the same time, it’s a brutal reminder of the world we live in. While we may move forward in regards to LGBTQ+ rights, there are still places in the world and in the United States of America where teenagers from the community face homophobia and bullying because of who they are. It’s a quite sobering reflection that is needed. 

THE PROM (L to R) JO ELLEN PELLMAN as EMMA, ARIANA DEBOSE as ALYSSA GREENE in THE PROM. Cr. MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX © 2020

The musical also reminds us how crucial and life-changing coming out can be. A similar theme could be seen in Hulu’s recent Happiest Season, the new holiday rom-com directed by Clea DuVall. The film caused a very torn discourse in social media revolving around coming-out stories, and there is a possibility that it may happen with The Prom. However, it’s worth remembering that although times are slowly changing, modern adolescents have to see these stories as well. Young people deserve to see coming-out stories that are contemporary and suitable for today’s wide, complicated world. And that’s what The Prom does. 

The Prom is something we really need right now, especially as this turbulent year is nearing its end. The spectacular cast does their best as singers, dancers, and actors. Even with a few hiccups, it provides a great time for the family. Its uplifting, entertaining narrative, combined with the moving message, will make your heart warm. Catchy songs will be stuck in your head, but it’s Emma’s storyline that will let you rethink the world that we live in and make you realize that we, as a society, still have a long way to go in terms of tolerance. 

The Prom will be available to stream on December 11th on Netflix.

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