[Screen It]


(2020) (Meryl Streep, James Corden) (PG-13)

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Musical: A quartet of narcissistic Broadway performers travel to a small Indiana town in hopes of rehabbing their public personas by protesting the local PTA's decision to call off the prom due to one lesbian student wanting to attend.

Things aren't going great for 17-year-old Emma Nolan (JO ELLEN PELLMAN), a high school student in Edgewater, Indiana. Having recently come out as a lesbian, her desire to attend her school's prom has caused PTA president Mrs. Greene (KERRY WASHINGTON) to call off that event, much to the chagrin of Principal Tom Hawkins (KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY). What none of the adults know is that Emma's girlfriend is none other than Mrs. Green's teenage daughter, Alyssa (ARIANA DeBOSE).

Nor do they realize that their town is about to be invaded by a quartet of narcissistic Broadway performers. Two-time Tony winner Dee Dee Allen (MERYL STREEP) and her co-star, Barry Glickman (JAMES CORDEN), are coming off scathing reviews for their latest musical, while former sitcom star turned Broadway actor Trent Oliver (ANDREW RANNELLS) now works as a bartender and chorus line performer Angie Dickinson (NICOLE KIDMAN) is tired of never being noticed.

Needing a way to rehabilitate their public personas, they decide to look for an easy cause they can support and come across the story about Emma and her prom being canceled. Arriving in a way that only pompous Broadway performers could, the quartet storm the PTA meeting and realize they're up against a bunch of homophobic parents whose kids think the same way about Emma. Determined not to fail for both Emma and themselves, the performers do what they can to try to make the prom happen and allow Emma to attend.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

Sometimes the elixir one needs in life -- especially in today's turbulent, scary, and depressing world -- is some form of fluffy, escapist entertainment. At others, though, and for those very same reasons that usually stem from people behaving badly, what one needs is something that makes a statement and allows the viewer to vicariously experience living that out. And sometimes what the doctor orders is something that combines both.

If your prescription is of the latter variety, then the filmed adaptation of the Broadway play "The Prom" might be the cure-all for what might be ailing you. Likely not to go down in the "best of" annals regarding movie musicals, and like most everyone's real-life prom that eventually fades into a fuzzy, distant memory, the 130-some minute offering might not be grand or life-changing, but it's pretty entertaining in the moment.

I haven't seen the Broadway musical, but from the scant research I've done, this cinematic version essentially is the same beast. It focuses mainly on two Broadway stars -- Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Corden) -- whose latest musical, "Eleanor! The Eleanor Roosevelt Story" has opened and closed just like that, thanks to a critical drubbing.

With much of that stemming from the after-effects of both being narcissists, they and a chorus line performer, Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman), and a former TV sitcom star turned Broadway performer turned current bartender, Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells), realize they need to rehab their public personas with some sort of social activism that will put them in a good light.

But they're all fairly lazy and thus the notion of heading to the small, conservative town of Edgewater, Indiana to protest a local PTA having canceled the high school prom just to prevent 17-year-old Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman) from showing up with her -- gasp -- female date sounds like easy pickings and a quick in, make some noise in front of the press and get out quickly plan.

That begins with a big, increasingly gaudy musical number where Streep belts out the number "It's Not About Me" which, natch, proves that it is all about her and her "I've won two Tonys" ego. Her presence surprises both Emma and her high school principal, Tom Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key), the latter of whom is a huge fan of Dee Dee's. Less impressed is PTA president Mrs. Greene (KERRY WASHINGTON) who's so hell-bent on "keeping the gays out" that she's failed to recognize that her "perfect" daughter, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose), just so happens to be Emma's secret girlfriend.

What follows isn't too hard to predict -- Dee Dee remains narcissistic until she gets a wake-up call, Barry contends with the lingering after-effects of coming out like Emma when he was a teen, and the girl at the center of the controversy gets a physical and motivational makeover by the Broadway stars before deciding to stand on her own -- but it's entertaining nonetheless. As are most of the included musical numbers that purposefully pay homage to the melodic styles of many of their predecessors.

The performances and singing are good, although I would have preferred more focus be shone on Pellman and DeBose's characters, mainly because they feel real while some of their older contemporaries feel a bit more like stylized caricatures. That's not a bad thing as that seems to be the point, but it's far easier to empathize with characters that feel real rather than somewhat artificial.

Director Ryan Murphy -- who works from a screenplay that Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin have adapted from their and Matthew Sklar's 2018 stage show -- keeps things moving at a quick clip and cinematographer Matthew Libatique has the camera moving and sweeping through the characters as they do their thing. All of which results in an enjoyable and entertaining diversion that just so happens to come wrapped with its own social message. Pretty much instantly forgettable but fun in the moment, "The Prom" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 5, 2020 / Posted December 11, 2020

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