Today, Netflix released an adaptation of the 2018 stage musical, The Prom, starring Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, and Andrew Rannells. The film doesn’t capture all of the musical’s heart and charm, but it does a solid job with the piece.
The Prom centers around Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman), a teenager in Indiana, who wants to go to prom with her girlfriend, Alyssa Greene (Ariana DuBose). Rather than allowing that to happen, the PTA cancels the prom. Upon hearing about this story, four Broadway stars (Streep, Corden, Kidman, and Rannells) come to her aid in order to get some good press.
I have been a fan of Ariana DuBose since I saw her in Bring it On: the Musical in 2012. Her performance as Alyssa is a highlight of the film. She brings such truth and heart to her character that you can’t help but fall in love with her. Your heart can’t also help but break as she sings about the pressure her mother puts on her in “Alyssa Greene.”
Jo Ellen Pellman is sweet and charming as Emma Nolan, but she didn’t draw me into the character in the same way that Caitlin Kinnunen did in the Broadway production. Her emotional journey didn’t feel as clear and defined as it could have, making it harder to see her as the emotional center of the story.
Mr. Hawkins, the principal of Emma’s school, played by Keegan Michael Key, is a big Broadway fan. His song, “We Look to You,” about how theater helps him heal and escape, hit me especially hard in this world we’re living in where the Broadway community is struggling so much. The medium of film also allowed for images of Hawkins’ emotional reaction to watching Streep as DeeDee Allen performing onstage that made the song even more powerful.
The film medium also allowed the audience to see some of Eleanor: the Musical , the flop musical DeeDee and Barry (Corden) star in. It also showed the theater district filled with audience members, which was a sight for sore eyes. I loved that the film was able to do more world building by adding in flashbacks and including more locations.
The Prom film also added a few new characters, including Emma’s grandmother, played by Mary Kay Place. It fleshed out Emma’s character to get to know more about the woman who took her in after her parents rejected her. The movie also added a storyline around Barry and his mother (Tracey Ullman), who rejected him when he came out as a teenager. This didn’t work as well and took away from Emma and Alyssa as the center of the story.
I saw The Prom three times on Broadway, and absolutely adored the show. Its message of acceptance is so important, and I am so glad that more people will be exposed to this incredible story. While I didn’t like the film as much as the Broadway show, I will certainly be returning to the film multiple times.