The Prom: Meryl Streep and James Corden talk-sing to the rafters Ryan Murphy's the all-around unlikeable feature.
Thespian rhymes with lesbian. Ain’t that a hoot? Seldom has confronting homophobia head on appeared more proudly patronizing or signaled less pleasure than here. It would be one thing were The Prom a satire warning fatuous celebrities to stick to their craft and avoid poking their noses in politics. (Were that the case, Meryl Streep would probably have taken a pass.) What we have here is a glittering example of cecity being the mother of invention.
With their latest production, a musical based on the life of Eleanor Roosevelt, opening and closing on the same night, an overly-theatrical ensemble of career narcissists led by Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) — a rapidly aging leading lady still looking to command power — must face the reality of failure. (One assumes the name Dee Dee Allen was a holdover from the play that served as source material, for where else would a film as haphazardly strung together as this get off naming its lead after cutter-extraordinaire DeDe Allen [The Hustler, Bonnie and Clyde]?) She’s joined by Barry Glickman (James Corden), her equally entitled and suffocatingly self-absorbed co-star; chorus girl Angie (Nicole Kidman); and nobody Trent (Andrew Rannells), an actor/bartender between gigs and desperate to flaunt his degree from Juilliard. It’s a running gag that doesn’t bear repeating.
Instead of taking a nod from the critics who panned the play-within-a-movie for its heavy-handedness, director Ryan Murphy & Co. proceed to hurl bricks at their audience in the form of foregone messaging. Looking to stay relevant, the effete opportunists turn to activism as a way out. The troupe must have clicked the “I Feel Lucky” function on Google’s homepage and hit paydirt on the very first result. Up comes news of a town in Indiana that’s cancelling its prom over the legal rights scuffle that might ensue if a same-sex couple were allowed to attend. For the sake of argument, we’ll overlook this chunk of random plotting, but not the YouTube video that’s attached. It features the school’s principal (Keegan-Michael Key) evoking the name of Eleanor Roosevelt. Plotting doesn’t get more plodding.
Judging by the script, the only two residents of Indiana who aren’t flaming homophobes are Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman) and her closeted partner Alyssa Greene (Ariana DeBose). (You’d stay in the closet too if your mother [Kerry Washington] was the vocal anti-gay chair of the PTA.) As written, there is nothing remotely endearing about these so-called Broadway liberals, who in truth are nothing more than a band of intellectual bigots waiting for a bunch of backwoods bumpkins to come along and show the elite the errors of their ways.
What can be said of his performance other than Corden blew? It’s the same old cantankerous queen that Paul Lynde and Rip Taylor made a career out of exploiting. I’d sooner believe Dumbo flew than any of their fits of cartoonishly sincere insincerity. Kudos to Corden for having appeared in two of the worst musicals I have ever had the displeasure to endure. The reason Cats outshines The Prom has nothing to do with quality and everything to do with a shorter running time.
Director Murphy’s (Running With Scissors, Eat Pray Love) camera covers the musical numbers with more thrusts and pull-backs than you’d find in a porno. His idea of opening up a play is restaging one of the film’s numerous instantly forgettable musical numbers at a monster truck rally or an Applebee’s, where the sight of La Streep dining is bound to draw titters. If Murphy had spent as much time structuring those numbers as he did cutting around his cast’s inability to dance, this leaden Broadway bump-up might have earned a spot next to the entertaining likes of Hairspray and Rock Of Ages. My initial instinct was to call this the worst musical to disgrace screens since Mamma Mia! 2, but Lily James’ performance had more going for it than any in this. ●
Video on Demand New Release Roundup
Another Round — The graduating class celebrated by making such drunken fools of themselves, the high school board contemplated enacting a zero-alcohol policy. Unfortunately, the ban wouldn’t pertain to four faculty members with a theory they’re looking to put to the test: if people are indeed born with a blood alcohol content that’s 0.05% too low, wouldn’t a couple of belts a day improve anyone’s job performance?. Their test subject is Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), the group’s designated driver and the only one at the birthday party where the plan is concocted who eschews cocktails. That is, until his three colleagues pressure him into hoisting a few. For years, Martin has been teaching in a joyless fog, imparting almost as much misinformation as fact. The warm buzz and sudden burst of enthusiasm associated with booze convince him that the more he drinks, the better his performance — and off we go. These four are all well-respected educators; surely one of them realizes the dire consequences that would result from such an experiment? In case their alcoholic states aren’t obvious, director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration, The Hunt) decides to underscore their unsobriety by going hand-held. In the end, someone will die, just not the one character that might move this in the opposite direction of “Just Say No!” And if ever a film didn’t warrant a happy ending, it’s this. If Vinterberg’s point is that alcoholism is an equal opportunity disease that doesn’t recognize class or socioeconomic lines, did we really need another feature-length PSA to wake us up? Good performances, but when all is said and done, who cares? 2020 — S.M. ●