As indicated a few hours ago, I started out hating The Prom but then I gradually warmed up to it, bit by bit. I ended up feeling simultaneously touched and exhausted. A couple of friends read and commented as I tapped out my reactions as the film went along, all 131 minutes worth. This is a spotty representation of the actual thread. Just remember that my eyes were watering at the end.
HE: Great excerpts from imagined N.Y. Times pan of Eleanor!, a B’way show about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, which stars Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) and Barry Glickman (James Corden) as a fat FDR. Excerpt #1: “Watching Allen’s Eleanor Roosevelt croaking out a heavy-handed message of social activism is like paying an aging draw Queen to shove a syrup-soaked American flag down my throat.” Excerpt #2: “If you’re considering buying a ticket to this show, do yourself a favor. Buy a few feet of good, heavy rope instead and then go hang yourself.”
HE: I hate these sleek, arrogant, narcissistic Broadway buffoons (Streep, Corden, Andrew Rannells, Nicole Kidman). I want them flown to the Sonoran desert, stripped naked, tied to wooden stakes and slowly eaten to death by lizards and red ants.”
Friendo #1: Guy Lodge didn’t like it? That’s a shocker. He’s usually contrarian driven. It felt like propaganda to me. Shockingly so. But I was moved by the younger lesbians’ storyline and a little bit with regard to coming out to your parents. I just wish it wasn’t propaganda for the left. It’s so embarrassing. It’s like the 50s all over again with strident rules.
And it’s about ten years outdated. This isn’t the world we live in anymore. A better story would be if a pair of young Trump supporters wanted to attend a prom but were being told by their lefty friends they’re not wanted. That would be a reason a school would cancel a prom. But not this. Based on a true story but ten years too late.
Publicist to Allen, Glickman/strong>: “It’s not the show. It’s you two. You’re just not likable. Nobody likes a narcissist.”
HE: Oh, God…here comes Nicole Kidman in a hot sequined dress!
Glickman: “Were gonna help that little lesbian whether she likes it or not.” JESUS!!!!
Friendo #2: I dunno. It’s an old-fashioned musical. Of course we’re supposed to like the characters (even though — yes — they’re narcissists). Of course they get happy endings. I think a musical like Moulin Rouge! is the be-all and end-all (it’s one of my favorite films), but not every musical has to be Moulin Rouge! I’m also a fan of the High School Musical films, and I often liked Glee. That’s what this movie is. I think, for what it is, it’s 100 times better than the Mamma Mia! films.
HE: I’m choking on the effervescent fizz. This is a shrieking woke horror film. “We’re gonna teach them to be more p.c.!” Yeah, you’ve been doing that, assholes, for the last three or four years, and as a result there was no blue wave in the 11.3 election. Because people hate p.c. scolds.
Friendo #2: Kerry Washington is a stylized villain, like Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s not a documentary. It’s a Ryan Murphy musical.I don’t mean to come off like a wokester, but there’s more than enough homophobia to go around in the African-American community. A lot of Middle American black people are very traditional, very church-bound. Please! If you don’t like The Prom, no problem, but you’re holding it to the standards of a documentary. I’d like to see your reality-test review of Singin’ in the Rain.
HE: Singin’ in the Rain is a legendary MGM musical, but it gives me a headache. It never touches bottom. When it comes to musicals, give me Some Like It Hot, Cabaret, A Hard Day’s Night, I’ll Do Anything, Dancer in the Dark. I’d love to see a song like “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” sung by Indiana bigots. Tomorrow belongs to us…!
Friendo #2: Singin’ in the Rain, to me, is the greatest Hollywood musical ever made. I don’t get the argument that says that a movie like that one is too corny, wholesome, “never touches bottom” — all the things that it is. That’s what those movies were. (And, I would argue, what High School Musical and The Prom are.) It’s not a movie I’m going to compare to Mean Streets. Those films take place in a stylized universe where absolute goodness triumphs.
HE: Jean Hagen’s screechy voice sinks that 1952 film. And I despise young Donald O’Connor. All my life I’ve been INSTRUCTED to regard Singin’ In The Rain as the greatest movie musical of all time. Only now have I managed to summon the intestinal fortitude to push back against this received wisdom.
HE: By the way I like Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman) and her girlfriend (Ariana DeBose) very much. I like them as much as I hate the p.c. Broadway quartet.
Friendo #2: This isn’t the world we live in anymore? Sorry, but I really don’t think that’s true. The movie makes the point that the legal case against a gay couple at the prom is a non-starter. That’s why it’s resolved so quickly. But the social pressure? In small-town Middle America? You think that right now, there aren’t tons of gay high schoolers in places like Indiana or wherever who are still closeted because they’re too scared about what the reaction would be?
Friendo #2: I’m not talking about Trump!! I’m talking about Middle America. There are tons of prejudices there. Hell, there are tons of prejudices in New York City. Before moving west I lived in downtown Manhattan for over 20 years, and I frequently saw gay men in the Village walking down the street holding hands. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. In all the time I lived here, I never — not once! — saw two gay men walking down the street holding hands on the Upper West Side. Why not? What’s the difference? Here’s the answer: They didn’t feel comfortable. Not even on the fucking Upper West Side of Manhattan. That should tell you something.
Friendo #1: And I get that. But feeling uncomfortable is different from an entire school treating one gay character like that. What do you think drives cancel culture? Every single one of these kids would be harassed on social media — doxxed and publicly humiliated. They would NEVER risk it. Even if they felt uncomfortable there is ZERO CHANCE — ZERO that they would put her through that. They might object and not attend but they would not move the prom and not tell her. I just call bullshit on that considering we live in a time when people are persecuted for making hand gestures at stoplights.
Friendo #2: Once again, The Prom uses a stylized plot. A stylization of a feeling. You’re saying, “In real life, this couldn’t happen.” But in a different way you could use that very same argument against, I dunno, Ocean’s Eleven. “No heist would ever be staged like that!” Well, yes, duh! It’s a heist film! A delirious farfetched crime fantasy in movie form. Certain films we want to be realistic. Certain films need to be realistic. If Steven Spielberg‘s The Post or Nomadland fail the reality test, then they don’t work.
HE: I believed every last detail of Rififi through and through.
Friendo #2: The Prom is a stylized, purplish, knowingly over-the-top musical. It has the right to its mythological good-vs.-evil plot. It’s not a documentary about Trump Land.
Friendo #1: Agree. I just found it too woke propaganda for my taste. But like you I was moved by the two young leads. It’s a fine film, not offensive or anything. Just not my bag.
HE: This is a caring, kind-hearted film with a good message and a good heart. Nonetheless the four words that keep popping into my head are obnoxious, overbearing, often numbing. Maybe it worked better on-stage. It probably did. But Indiana…you know. Jeff to Emma: Proms aren’t important. Indiana isn’t important. Forget about it. Leave town and be free.
Friendo #2: When you’re 18, and a girl, in a small town, the prom is important. That’s just the way it is.
Friendo #1: In 2021 you have a massive machine of celebrities and Twitter to swarm your attackers. You are not the marginalized one in 2021. You are the celebrated one. That is why it is ultimately bullshit. It is telling the left what it NEEDS to hear to justify its position as marginalized — for years now this is what gets the most attention and support online — gay or trans. Whether Indiana or California or Texas — this is the kind of thing the left LIVES for, searches for day in and day out — a chance to shame people who discriminate. So it is a fantasy. It is WOKE PORN.
But as such, it’s fine. I’m not trying to dump on it. If people find joy in it, I’m all for it…
HE: The songs are catchy. But the Fosse song, “Give It Some Zazz”…later. (minutes later) So everyone’s personal history and problems and blockages are going to be solved? This is dragging on. You know what musical in this vein that I found tolerable? “Kinky Boots.” Why? Because I saw it on stage. And with Harvey Fierstein in the audience!
Friendo #2: Yes, everyone’s problems are going to be solved, and everything comes out more or less right for everyone in the end. It’s called…a movie!
HE: Emma and James Corden…a match made in heaven. Corden is the gayest straight performer who ever lived. (minutes later) Good God, this film has been running for 1:40 and there’s another half-hour to go? I’m sinking. So there were two proms, and now there’s going to be a third?
Friendo #2: I watched it till 3 am, and was pretty tired, and I honestly thought it flew by.
HE: Okay, my heart melted. I fell for it. I like what is is, what it’s generating, what it stands for. I’m glad it’s out there. And yes, it’s aimed at Middle American schmucks. But altogether it’s soooo exhausting and drawn out. It kills you with the alpha-preach. It happily and joyously suffocates you to death.
I texted my son Jett with tears in my eyes during the last 15, 20 minutes. I told him it breaks my heart to think of him walking to the NYC-bound train station in West Orange, which is about 1.8 miles from his new home….it kills me to think of him freezing his ass off in February as he walks back to the house, pushing his bike uphill. I told him to think about buying a beater car, a station car. (He could get a piece of shit for $1K.) “Dad, really…I’m fine,” he insisted. “I’m not a pussy about the cold.” I, on the other hand, am a total shuddering CANDY-ASS when it comes to Arctic temperatures.
Anyway, the tears were inspired by The Prom.…I’m almost ashamed to admit that, but they were.
Friendo #1: This has been a very surreal email thread. Jett can Uber on really cold days.
Friendo #2: This has been one of my favorite email exchanges of all time. And Jeff, the fact that you could start off hating the film like you did, for as long as you did, and then still give into it — that is the mark of an open mind. I’m truly impressed. Oh, and I’m also a candy-ass about the cold. I can’t stand it. Can’t wait to see how you tie it all together in your post.