Rant and Rave: It’s a win for the gays at The Prom

As an institution that has shaped cultural consciousness with its vibrant marquees and flashy performances, the absence of Broadway during the pandemic has been painfully felt by many. While actors, producers, and fans alike still dream of the day they can finally come together and experience the magic of theater once again, not all hope is lost. Based on the 2018 Tony-nominated Broadway production, The Prom is for everybody who’s been longing for the rawness and connection only live theatre can bring—that one need not be a theater fan to appreciate its heartwarming story of a queer high schooler who simply wants to take her girlfriend to the prom.

With shows like Glee and Pose to Ryan Murphy’s name, 2020’s highly-anticipated musical film is clearly playing to the director and producer’s strengths: musicals and social commentary. But he does not always get it right, Murphy’s track record with queer stories and representation casted some doubt on whether or not The Prom will dance its way to critical success or simply fade into obscurity. As the lights go up on this star-studded spectacle, audiences are invited to watch the funniest, brightest, and gayest prom in their lifetime. 

Changing lives

Though some may say that the film’s use of big names is a cash-grab ploy, Meryl Streep,  James Corden, Nicole Kidman, and Andrew Rannells all give us our money’s worth as the larger-than-life quartet that kept a small town on its toes. Each of them depicts the four different facets of a theatre actor: Streep is the revered two-time Tony winner, Corden is the comedic charmer, Kidman is the Chorus girl, and Rannells is the conceited Juilliard graduate. 

Streep adds another memorable character to her roster of dynamic roles with Dee Dee Allen, the egotistical thespian that leads the team to Indiana to drum up some positive publicity after an unfavorable Broadway run. Corden, however, lacks in portraying his character  but had a very close relationship with the protagonist and more often than not while  Kidman is well overlooked as Angie Dickenson, with the exception of a couple of pivotal “zazz” moments. Despite standing alongside movie and TV legends, Rannells as the crusader Trent Oliver stands out from the pack, proving himself as one of Broadway’s trusted veterans with his charisma and comedic timing.

Jo Ellen Pellman is indisputably the film’s breakout star with her touching performance as Emma Nolan. She is the hero of every queer highschooler’s struggle toward self-acceptance in an institution that barely validates her identity. Ariana DeBose’s insightful portrayal of Alyssa Greene speaks volumes on why the homegrown Broadway actress earned a Tony nomination for her performance in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. It is also worth noting that Pellman and DeBose are both queer in real life,  satisfying the community’s plea for a truthful representation onscreen.

Give it some Zazz!

For a modern tale, the film’s big dance breaks and the happy ending is reminiscent of the movie musical hall of famers that emerged during the  Golden Age in the 50s. Its Tony-nominated score by Chad Beguelin and Matthe Sklar hits all the right notes; its modern poppy tunes offer a celebration of gender identity, self-acceptance, and love. Emma’s Just Breathe is a soulful anthem for resistance against bigotry, while Accept Me is a clever parody of wholesome peace ballads, with lyrics like “Let’s all accept one another to make rainbow dreams come true”. Love Thy Neighbor points out the hypocrisy of the people who cherry-picks the Bible to spread hate, and Unruly Heart tells the tiresome struggle of queer people but affirms the promising message—”No matter what the world might say, this heart is the best part of me!”

Beyond the music, Broadway’s extravagance is wonderfully translated into the film’s  set design. Jamie Walker McCall and cinematographer Matthew Libatique successfully recreated  the magic  of a live theater set using colorful lighting and space. The strategic camera angles framing the actor’s expressions serve as a perfect frame for the film, and  the outrageous and flamboyant costumes by designer Lou Eyrich further  reflect the dazzling culture of theatre.

A win for the gays, the fans, and the gay fans

Beyond the shimmery visuals, the simple plot ensures an enjoyable enough two hours. The jokes aren’t forced, and do not rely on stereotypical notions of gay people. However, the film’s premise is a little flimsy. The story started off with Emma’s problem with the parents of the school interfering with prom and even garnering media attention—the story could’ve explained more on how it escalated. Additionally, despite its intention to give Dee Dee character development, the romantic pairing between her and school principal Tom Hawkins comes off as  an unnecessary plot device to feed a celebrity’s ego. But The Prom, despite these blunders, puts up an admirable effort to examine the pitfalls of celebrity worship and how the people we put on a pedestal are ultimately just flawed human beings.

Breaking free from the typical tropes of the “gay best friend” or the “promiscuous queer” that has long since plagued media, the gays definitely win in The Prom, bringing  hope that someday, young LGBTQ+ people won’t need to sacrifice their youth and discovery of self-identity for centuries old, arbitrary beliefs.

The Prom is an eloquent love letter to the unapologetic vibrance of queerness—the movie blooms with the affirmation of being seen and known. Most significantly, it shows how important it is to establish a community built on sympathy and respect for one another. As Barry hopefully croons, “We’re gonna change the world, one lesbian at a time.” 

Rating: 4/4

Bea Cruz

By Bea Cruz

Alexandra Simone Enriquez

By Alexandra Simone Enriquez

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