THE PROM (2020) balances a bloated story with some fiery tunes

From Ryan Murphy comes The Prom, a Netflix musical comedy following a group of theatre stars who journey to a conservative Indiana town to rally behind a teen who just wants to take her girlfriend to the prom.

As with the vast majority of musical comedies – it’s the music and dance numbers that draw in the views, but it’s the strength of the story that makes a good musical GREAT! In this case, I can’t say the narrative does much to thrust the film into greatness, but it also doesn’t hurt it too much – it’s just okay. There are certainly elements of the story that are engaging and executed quite well, but there are a lot of subplots that come in and out without making much of an impact at all. The central narrative of a high school student striving to be included in her school’s prom is engaging and orchestrated very well. Over the course of the film, this main journey twists, turns and hits some familiar beats while creating some emotional investment in the central relationship. It services the music and the dance sequences just as well as it needs to.

On the other hand, it’s all the side plots that jump in and out of the spotlight that hurt the film in the long run. Some smaller arcs, such as one that centres around Keegan-Michael Key’s character, do have their good moments, but there are a number of others strewn throughout that just miss the mark. The majority of these misses come from smaller arcs designed to give the supporting characters some sort of emotion-driven journey. These moments end up feeling contrived and not natural in the slightest – as if the filmmakers are implementing them to force an emotional connection that is unnecessary. Just let the core narrative do what it does and have the side-plots contribute to the fun moments here and there. The amount of side-plots and detours the film takes really make it feel quite bloated. At 2 hours and 10 minutes, this could have been much better and felt like much tighter of a story if 15-20 minutes was shaved off. It’s just a bit long and, as I mentioned, a tad bloated.

Now, the music of the film – which is arguably the most important element – does have some jazzy hits that show up here and there. There are quite a few songs in here, so many that I hardly remember them all, and they’re mostly really fun. There are the more subtle musical numbers that aim to heighten the emotion, and there are the ones where everyone gets up and starts dancing to a choreographed number in the mall. Whenever a musical number begins it really does light up with film with loud colours and upbeat tunes – making for some of the movie’s best moments. I will say, the vast majority of the good songs are those where the leading woman, Jo Allen Pellman, takes centre stage. It’s her journey that dictates the story, so it’s her musical numbers that make the most impact. The songs headlined by the likes of Meryl Streep, James Corden and co. are hit or miss. The opening number falls flat, and from there you get some good ones and some that are certainly forgettable. It’s a shame that not all the songs hit, because this could have been an awesome soundtrack.

The music is one thing, but it’s the combination of the music with the stellar dance choreography that really elevates those musical moments. I’ll give credit where credit is due, there are a number of songs that feel like “the big climactic song” all due to the scale of the choreography and how “big” a number of the songs are presented. The production that went into these set-pieces most certainly pays off by enhancing the enjoyment of some songs that otherwise may not have been.

When it comes to the performances, there’s no looking past the stellar cast at the forefront of the film. Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington and Keegan-Michael Key are all talented individuals and it does show here. Whether it’s during musical moments or just through the general story – they’re all good enough to hold a scene together. Especially Meryl Streep, who doesn’t need to do more than lift a finger and you’re instantly transfixed. As someone who isn’t much of a fan of James Corden, he’s certainly the weakest link of the whole operation – sporting a questionable accent and never coming across as overly funny or impressive. It’s not a major hinderance as everyone else picks up the scraps.

Jo Ellen Pellman struts onto the scene, in what is her first major role, and crushes it. She has this very likeable drive and charisma about her that gets you instantly on the side of her character. From her strictly dialogue scenes to her variety of musical number, she really is the star of the show. And to say that at times she outshines Meryl Streep is as good of a compliment as any. It’s her character where the heart of the story is delivered through, and she does a great job to sell it all in an authentic way.

In the end, with an all-star cast, some zazzy songs and a decent story to go with it – The Prom is a fun, worthwhile watch. The narrative is bloated at times, with many side character arcs failing to stick the landing, but the central arc is enough to hold things together. Some of the music also misses the mark, but there are a number of fun, upbeat songs backed with great dance choreography spread throughout the film to keep you engaged. Then you have the performances from the likes of Jo Ellen Pellman and Meryl Streep to really bring something special to a number of scenes. It may not be the best or most well crafted musical out there, but for fans of musicals – there’s definitely a lot to get out of this as it oozes hints of High School Musical and Glee.

6.7/10

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