The operative word is “fun.” F. U. N. fun. From the perspective of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland’s “let’s-put-on-a-show” fun. And where those old teens of the Forties added a skosh of patriotism to their hi- and lo-jinks, “The Prom” promotes sexual politics, for the theme depends from intolerance toward homosexuality.
The film, based on a Broadway musical based on a news story, begins on Broadway. There, Eleanor, a musical about an amazing politician (and purported bi-sexual), has bombed. Blame goes on the self-patting stars, Dee Dee, a self-proclaimed gay-positive icon (Meryl Streep, serviceable), and Barry Glickman, “gay as a bucket of wigs” (broadly played by James Corden). So they repair to a bar to contemplate their futures. The bar tender, a Julliard graduate (Andrew Rannells, always a pleasure), and a chorine (Nicole Kidman with her “antelope legs”) from “Chicago!” help find a cause to boost to their ratings in the public eye.
Edgewater, Indiana, has cancelled the high school prom rather than tolerate a young woman’s attending with her girlfriend. The quartet of narcissists decides to uphold the couple. The singers and dancers cruise to Indiana on a tour bus filled with a company for Godspell. At the high school, the star-struck principal (Keegan-Michael Key, amazing in the role) struggles with the corseted head of the PTA (Kerry Washington straitened by its laces).
Ariana DeBose as her closeted daughter and Jo Ellen Pellman as the out-lesbian are wonderful triple threats (if not believable teenagers). Their “youth” is balanced with maternal cameos by the always-welcome Mary Kay Place and Tracey Ullman.
Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin’s stress the theme of friendship in their screenplay. The “in” jokes about the “theatuh” are one thing, but slaps at small towns (Dee Dee wanders around town “seeing the sight”) are just mean. Matthew Sklar’s music fades quickly as Beguelin’s lyrics pull heartstrings, especially in Emma’s “Just Breathe.” The song about cherry-picking the Bible, “Love Thy Neighbor,” allows Rannells to practice musical exegesis.
For the film adaptation of The Prom, director Ryan Murphy (Glee) saps energy from the live stage production, but he could not erase all the fun.