'The Prom' Review: James Corden Offensively Miscast in Messy Netflix Musical

The experience of watching The Prom is like being stuck in a wind tunnel full of sequins. Sometimes fabulous, sometimes abrasive and always messy.

Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, the Netflix movie stars Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and James Corden and tells the story of four vain Broadway actors who come to an Indiana high school to help a young lesbian go to prom with her girlfriend despite the protestations of her fellow students and the PTA. And if they get a little good press to help their flagging careers on the way, then all the better.

Most of all, though, it is director Ryan Murphy's film. The super-producer behind shows like Glee and the American Crime/Horror Story franchises (as well as Netflix's Ratched and Hollywood) has developed a signature mode that is in full force here.

You can recognize a Murphy project in two main ways. Firstly, in its moments of camp, which at their best (like in Feud) attain the level of high art, and at their worst feel less like scenes and more like GIF-able moments roughly thrown together. The Prom has a few of the former moments, such as when Streep gets a solo in which she is able to go full Patti LuPone, or when Kidman gets a fun Fosse-esque routine.

the prom netflix review
Meryl Streep and James Corden (and ensemble) in Netflix's 'The Prom'. Netflix

Mostly, though, the visual style of the movie is fairly exhausting. Oftentimes, plays or musicals brought to the screen can feel stagy, and Murphy tries to prevent that by throwing every cinematic trick in the book at The Prom. The colors are hyper-bright, the camera is ever-spinning, and we get a number of Murphy's beloved flashbacks that fill in backstories left blank in the Broadway version.

However when combined with a litany of Broadway references, the result is just too much—you'll find yourself begging for the camera to stop cutting so you can actually get a look at the dancing, to stop throwing references at you, and for the camera to stop spinning for just one scene so you have time to take a couple of Dramamine.

The other way you know you are watching a Murphy joint is the casting. His team's casting is often superb, with a particular line in giving great work to actresses. For examples of his powers, see Selma Blair as Kris Jenner in American Crime Story, Queen Latifah as Hattie McDaniel in Hollywood, or every single role he has ever given Sarah Paulson.

So it is a tragedy to report that some of the castings of The Prom is a little off. Some of it is as strong as ever—Streep is allowed to give her all, for example. However, Nicole Kidman is a 5'11" Venus with decades of star-power behind her, so never is believable as a down-on-her-luck chorus girl.

The biggest problem, however, lies with James Corden. Opinions differ on how acceptable it is for straight actors to play gay roles, but few straight actors could get away with a gay character like this, a role that would feel stereotypical in an '80s sitcom and here feels offensive.

After all, it is not like we have a shortage of actual gay actors who could give the role more pathos. Was Titus Burgess busy? Was Nathan Lane on holiday? Andrew Rannells is even in this movie, so we know he was available, and though he has fun as the out-of-work actor who wants everyone to know he went to Juliard, this film would have been better had he been given the bigger role.

This is especially true in a year when Broadway itself has been so hard hit by the coronavirus. A tribute to that institution of theatre, and one which captures a lot of its joy, is sorely needed, but could have been even better if they actually hired someone from that world to be in this movie over someone whose talk show has run throughout the pandemic.

Clearly, though, the film means well, and its message of how performance (and a love of Meryl Streep) can help LGBTQ+ people come to terms with themselves is an important one that the film handles well, albeit in a rose-colored way. And a blue-colored way. And a chartreuse-colored way...

The Prom comes to Netflix on Friday, December 4.