The Prom review – a musical with messages but no real charm

By Daniel Hart
Published: December 11, 2020 (Last updated: December 15, 2023)
Netflix film The Prom


Regardless of the themes and necessary messaging, The Prom does not land itself well as a musical — it’s hammy, and the cast does not meld together as much as we’d like them to.

This review of Netflix film The Prom contains no spoilers. The musical was released on the streaming service on December 11, 2020.

The Prom follows down-on-their-luck Broadway stars who rally around a teenage girl at a school who wants to go to the prom with her girlfriend; this is not a possibility because they live in conservative small-town Indiana town with a social environment reduced down to a pulp. There are old-fashioned, undesirable and religious connotations at play in this Netflix film — it’s a message of inclusivity, that’s the brand of the story, while glazing viewers with musical numbers for good measure.

But the real test of a film like The Prom is the emotions it brings from tying the story to music. It never really lands in this film; while the musical numbers are nothing to be smirked at, it feels disconnected from the narrative somehow. It’s almost like the script and the theme was agreed, and then the production team decided to write the songs after. The songs need to make the film, and not just be a prop so you can hail it a musical.

I sensed a lot of irony in the story; the broadway trio (Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman) launch themselves at the opportunity to become activitists for school girl Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman) purely because their latest broadway show was panned by critics; they needed a PR opportunity, and supported a gay student in her fight to be able to go prom with her girlfriend; this is a route for a good news story. But for some reason, I could not get this nagging feeling out of my head that the mentioned cast were doing the same thing by being part of this film. Their performances are hammed in; it’s almost like they are trying to tick a box that they’ve participated in a wholly LGBTQ+ teen film.

Of course, putting aside my possible paranoid conspiracy theories, there’s something odd about seeing James Corden sing and dance alongside Meryl Streep; it’s almost like I’ve entered into a new Universe and we are experiencing a nightmare. I’m sure James Corden enjoys the drama of a musical, but does the audience? There’s a significant difference between a feature-length musical and Carpool Karaoke.

If we ignore the stars, when the film veers to the high school side of the story, it’s a much more interesting premise — Jo Ellen Pellman puts in the best performance of the film and almost shows up her co-stars. There’s a sweetness to the story — it’s filled with hope and promise for a brighter, more inclusive, and loving future where parents are not ashamed of who their children are and we all live harmoniously — Netflix’s The Prom represents how we should fight for our causes, regardless of the adversity.

But unfortunately, regardless of the themes and necessary messaging, The Prom does not land itself well as a musical — it’s hammy and the cast does not meld together as much as we’d like them to.

Movie Reviews, Netflix