The Gang’s All Queer: Our Critics Discuss Ryan Murphy’s film of The Prom (for Parterre Box)

Cameron Kelsall: Ryan Murphy has essentially become the artistic director of Netflix. Flip through your landing page and you’re inevitably greeted by dozens of his projects: Ratched, The Boys in the Band, The Politician and so on. Murphy brings an unapologetically queer sensibility to everything he produces, and it’s encouraging to see a mainstream entertainment company fully embracing and promoting that. But his output is not without flaws, like his reliance on a core cadre of actors who tend to give indistinguishable performances across a variety of programs; an inconsistency of tone and tendency to leave storylines hanging in serialized dramas; and a penchant for self-aware campiness. The latter issue comes to the fore in The Prom, adapted from a 2018 Broadway musical about a lesbian teenager in the Midwest who causes a miniature culture war when she asks to take her girlfriend to the fete of the title. The musical itself—which centers on a group of washed-up hoofers who descend on the small town to preach tolerance—was charming and heartfelt, not least because it featured a cast of journeyman theater actors essentially playing heightened versions of themselves. Murphy’s treatment, starring A-listers like Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, is by contrast garish and overproduced. If the original version had zazz—to borrow from one of the show’s signature numbers—its adaptation barely achieves fizz.

David Fox: I have a hunch that Shonda Rhimes‘ recent Netflix deal may challenge Murphy’s rule-the-roost hegemony, but there’s certainly no question that his imprint is very dominant—at Netflix, and here in The Prom. And, as you say, not in a good way. Honestly, this is the kind of review I really dislike writing. The project itself virtually spills over with good will and positive energy. The queer-is-beautiful message is very welcome, and lends itself to the equally cheer-worthy sense that the many famous actors who appear here in roles large and small (the latter include Tracey Ullman) are endorsing that message. Again, all of this is good. But then there’s the result, which like so many recent Murphy projects looks simultaneously dumbed down and cranked up. Most of the actors do everything short of literally winking at the camera in an effort to make sure that no “in crowd” theater joke goes unnoticed. (And we’re not talking Wildean wit here, trust me.) I did not see the Broadway production, but I’d hazard to guess that it’s the kind of show that really works best in modest circumstances. That is about as far from Murphy’s wheelhouse as you can get. While I appreciated Streep’s sense of campy energy, and her look—halfway between Shirley MacLaine and Patti LuPone—is likewise fun, the overkill of the first ten minutes nearly drove me out of the room…

Click here to read the full post at Parterre Box.

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