Pride and The Prom, by Cecelia Johanni
“Although it breaks my heart, we have no choice. There won’t be a prom.”
The Prom is a Netflix adaptation of a humorous Broadway musical that tackles serious topics such as coming out to parents and peers, high school heartbreak, and LGBTQ+ acceptance. This film from director Ryan Murphy, features James Corden, Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and a cast of other stars.
The Prom follows Emma on her crusade against her conservative midwest high school so she and her girlfriend, Alyssa, can go to prom. Soon after, washed-up Broadway performers Barry Glickman (James Corden) and Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) show up to support Emma’s mission. However, this support is a narcissistic charade; their ulterior motive is to attract the limelight, until a change of heart later in the film.
In the opening number, the Broadway stars express their frustrations through humor with Changing Lives. Dance with You provides a sweet duet about the thrill of a secret high school romance. Just Breathe is comical yet relatable (picture of being gay in the Midwest). The cast’s excellent vocals and stage presence come as no surprise given their musical experience. The sixteen other songs further liven the plot and connect the audience to the characters and the storyworld.
The Prom portrays suburban life well, from date nights at Applebee’s to the everybody-knows-everybody vibe, but depicts the struggles of coming out in a mediocre manner. After Emma’s parents kick her out, her peers ridicule her, and an alternate prom is made to shun her, a member of Dee Dee’s entourage convinces the popular students to accept Emma. Although films often speed up the timeline to save screen time, this change of heart is radical and unrealistic. In real life, if the solution to homophobia were as simplistic as a conversation with a homophobe, then same-sex couple could attend their proms in the first place.
On a positive note, audiences get to watch the authentic struggles of James Cordon’s character, Barry Glickman. Barry’s mother had ceased contact with him for his sexuality, but near the end of the film, she reconciles with him. This queer narrative is a realistic representation of how coming out works in real life: It takes time for people to come around.
However, Barry Glickman is also a serious problem in The Prom, or rather, James Corden is the problem. Corden is not gay, so his portrayal of a flamboyant gay man was offensive to lots of viewers. This backlash from viewers and critics is valid because there are gay actors who should have played the role instead. Corden’s controversial portrayal of a gay character reflects the issues of underepresentation of the LGBTQ+ community in Hollywood. Queer actors ought to play queer characters.
The film wraps up when Barry and Dee Dee host an inclusive prom for Emma and Alyssa. The musical finale presents an explosive musical number about love, pride and representation as peers of diverse abilities, sexualities and ethnicities dance together in an atmosphere of acceptance.
The Prom is a celebration of love, however problematic some elements are. It’s important to remember that we can appreciate a film and remain critical of its insincere messages. If you want to take a break from real life and experience a happy ending, then The Prom is for you.