Twenty minutes have already passed when the queer dance squad storms the hall in the conservative American state of Indiana. Here parents of the local high school are defending a disgraceful decision that really existed: The “prom” shouldn’t take place at all before Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), a lesbian student, is allowed to attend with her partner. Because – hello? – it’s about nothing less than the night of the nights in the life of American teenagers! So that the whole thing does not degenerate into a “homoball”, only hetero couples should participate. Understandably, the dance squad would like to have a say.
“The Prom” (directed by Ryan Murphy), the Netflix adaptation of a Broadway musical from 2018, sends the New York East Coast elite on the necks of homophobic people. The dance squad consists of four unsuccessful, more or less queer and damn narcissistic Broadway stars who are planning their career reboot and want to join a “noble cause” for PR purposes. Issues like “hunger” and “poverty” are something, um, “too far away”; and since Emma is trending on Twitter right now, she’s chosen. So the opportunistic group goes to Indiana, pushes open the doors of the gym and the hearts of the people and announces that they are here to support this “LGBQT-or-whatever-its-name” teenage boy.
The film looks as if an AI trained to market diversity issues has spat it out
Is this what salvation looks like? Maybe for Emma, but not for the viewer. There are still another 110 minutes ahead of it, a no-man’s-land, criss-crossed by boring lines of opinion, the very best of intentions, moral misconduct and unoriginal musical numbers. For all its political platitude, the film also appears so artificial and impersonal visually, as if an AI of the streaming service that was overfed with musical films and trained on the marketing of diversity issues had spat it out. The characters are less made of flesh and blood than exaggerated caricatures – perfectly choreographed yet lifeless avatars. In addition to Nicole Kidman and James Corden, Meryl Streep also plays. Somebody should also have told the AI that holding hands in the shimmering pink leaf rain and profound guitar playing in front of rainbow colors put cinematically sensitive people at an increased risk of heart attacks.
And why is there another cross hanging on the glass ceiling of the mall, in which one of the stars (Andrew Rannells) is dancing and singing asking consumers to tolerate homosexual people? Because the converted homophobes will go to heaven? The “Prom”, the night of all nights, towards which everything is heading and which stands at the end of the film, is the last judgment, the apocalypse, which one eagerly waits for, because then the film will also be over. Then the good are separated from the bad, for which they, as in the catechism, have to learn their (song) text and sing – Broadway stars included. They too have to repent for their egoism and their self-righteousness in order to get to the next level of goodness. The principal of Emma’s high school explains that to “be a good person” you have to put other interests above your own. For example, by funding an inclusive prom. Capitalism and religion dance hand in hand, reducing anti-discrimination work to a good sale of indulgences and the right creed.
Is that serious? Or ironic? And: does that even make a difference? In the end, everything dissolves anyway in the most American of all forms of belief, which alone promises redemption and reconciliation: in the spectacle. Everyone is dancing, the left and the right, the gays and the homophobes alike. The existential, real, drawn-out struggles of queer people turn into unreal musical phantasms.
Initially, a reviewer pounds a Broadway show as “the most inappropriate, ridiculous, silliest number” he has ever seen. Netflix now seems to have enough money and self-irony to put such a criticism in front of a film for which this judgment is precisely tailored.
The Prom, USA 2020. – Director: Ryan Murphy. Book: Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin. Camera: Matthew Libatique. With Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Jo Ellen Pellman. More credits on imdb. On Netflix, 131 min.