Every person, from the moment they're old enough to even know what it is, fantasizes about their high school prom. It's an event where one stresses out over the perfect, grandoise "promposal" to get a date, or shopping for just the right dress, or picking up the corsage at the very last second before an hours-long photoshoot with your mom. All of this anxiety in an effort to achieve a night to remember. But Emma Nolan, the protagonist of The Prom on Netflix, has even bigger things to worry about, chiefly if there will be a prom at all. Her small town PTA decided to cancel the event all because she wanted to bring her secret girlfriend as a date.
Adapted from the Broadway musical of the same name (which is itself inspired by a real incident,) The Prom tells the story of how one girl from a small, conservative town fights for the right to enjoy the prom like any other kid, with the help of a quartet of down-on-their-luck Broadway stars and a sympathetic principal. The Ryan Murphy-directed film for Netflix stars Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, Andrew Rannells, and Keegan Michael Key in a glitzy, bombastic exploration of one girl's fight to be seen in a world that doesn't quite understand who she is. Yes, the same Ryan Murphy behind American Horror Story. It's possible to be both into witch covens and musicals. It's all about balance.
Possible spoilers and musical numbers ahead. Reader discretion is advised.
We've all experienced a feeling of alienation in our teenage years. High school is hard enough, but when you're bullied simply for who you love or being who you are, it's even more difficult. I truly believe that every teenager can, at least on some level, empathize with Emma. I myself have personally dealt with feelings of "otherness" and wanting to fit in. It's emotionally draining to be a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. In the age of social media and cyberbullying, the trauma of our high school years is amplified. But it also gives those who might not fit into a cookie-cutter mold a platform to have a voice. Emma vlogs about her struggle as a lesbian in a conservative community, from her parents disowning her to having to meet with her girlfriend in secret (who just happens to be the daughter of the PTA president). It also gives Emma the opportunity to find kindred spirits, from Broadway stars struggling with their identity to kids just like her. What I love the most about this film is the overall message of loving yourself and loving others. The former is particularly difficult to do when an entire town thinks there's something wrong with you. By finding a sense of community with others, Emma learns to love herself and embrace exactly who she is. Eventually, her classmates also begin to look at her in a different light, with a little help from this showstopper. Hatred is ultimately based on fear and not understanding, whether it be hatred of the self or that of others. While systemic bigotry certainly can't be solved over the course of a few songs and dances, all it takes is one act of courage to challenge the status quo. This film is not only a great example of how one small act can inspire big social change, but also shows how far we still have to go. Even today, there are still a myriad of incidents of discrimination in our society. The musical seems to imply that change is easy (when it very much isn't), but it also gives one hope that it is indeed possible. My biggest issue with the film is the choice of James Corden to play a gay man. I understand that Ryan Murphy needed his star power, as musicals are a little tougher to sell than the latest Marvel film, but I think the role should have gone to an actor from the LGBTQ community. James Corden is incredibly talented, but I personally find it problematic that he's capitalizing on what is largely a stereotypical portrayal of a gay man. Overall, I give The Prom 4/5 Crispy Chicken Wings. It's far from perfect, but it's full of glitz, glamour, and hope for a more inclusive world. Despite its flaws, it was great fun to watch.
*Make sure to tune into The Crispy Soul Podcast, where we go more into depth on this topic, available on all major streaming apps.