Musicals as peppy as The Prom should make you happy, but there's something about this one in particular that feels off, and leaves you cringing, if not actually full of rage. I saw The Prom on Broadway and it frustrated me then, too, so my expectations were so low that I actually didn't hate Ryan Murphy's adaptation as much as I expected to, weirdly…but there are still so many upsetting things going on in this musical from little moments to the plot itself.
Who is The Prom for? Is this musical for LGBTQ+ teens who feel alone in small towns and school districts that discriminate against them? Then I've got bad news, because The Prom spends way too much time telling the story of four adults from New York City who think they know how to make a difference. Is it about how liberal celebrities just want attention? Then '’ve got bad news for you because, again, the musical is still all about them anyway. I'm totally down to satirize wealthy "activists" with shallow intentions, but in spending so much time doing so The Prom loses sight of who the real enemy is.
So here, in no particular order, are all the things about The Prom that really, really pissed me off. [There are mega spoilers ahead for The Prom. If you don't wait it spoiled for you, come back to this post later!]
1. When James Corden does an American accent (among other things)
It brings me no joy to say this because I am that annoying person who reminds the people who find Corden annoying that he won a Tony award. I've seen every episode of his sitcom, Gavin & Stacey. I also know from Glee and other Murphy shows that the director encourages certain gay stereotypes in his actors' performances. But I can't defend Corden anymore. His American accent is so bad it feels homophobic somehow, and all of the dramatic scenes about his mother just feel empty, like he's trying on someone else's pain in a dressing room at the mall. He's funny sometimes, but should not have been cast in this role.
2. When YouTube comments start singing
Again, this brings me no joy. "Unruly Heart" is supposed to be a sweet moment, and The Prom's message about acceptance is so much better when you hear it from Emma or Alyssa in their own words…but then her laptop started singing back to her and I screamed! Witchcraft!
3. When Nicole Kidman sticks her finger in a pint of Häagen-Dazs
GROSS! Even before the pandemic, I would have cringed at that. Who does that????
4. When you don't know what "zazz" is
Not since "jellicle cats" has a nonsense word in a musical been that maddening.
5. When you can't see any of the dancing
Those cameras swoosh around so fast you can't see anybody's feet! In "Tonight Belongs To You", there's a part of the song where two girls are getting ready for prom in a room so cramped and tiny that not only can you not see them dance, I felt claustrophobic. This is a musical, for god's sake. I wanna see the dancing!!!
6. When Dee Dee doesn't know what Applebee's is
This has bothered me since I saw The Prom on stage, so I feel blessed to have this platform. *Ahem*...Meryl Streep's character claims to have never heard of an Applebee's and calls it "Apples and Bees." Sure sure, because she's a coastal elite or whatever, right? Here's the problem with that logic: there are two Applebee's in Times Square where Dee Dee works as a Broadway star. The neon logos are pretty big, too. You can't miss them. Are you telling me she has been leaving the theater, head down, and getting in a car without once looking up her entire career? Even if that is the case, later in The Prom she tells the hot principal that she's really just a small-town girl from Pennsylvania…so WHY HASN’T SHE BEEN TO AN APPLEBEE'S?! Suburban theatre kids love to tear it up at a casual dining chain post-rehearsal. I can't with this.
7. When the principal says he's #foreveralone
I don't really want to judge The Prom for casting Keegan-Michael Key as Streep's love interest (get it Meryl), but I do take issue with his character saying that listing "administration" and "Broadway" as his interests doesn't get him matches on the apps. He has a job, he cares about children, and he'll sing "Suddenly Seymour" with you at karaoke? Swipe right, idiots.
8. When Emma shows up at the empty gym
Oh, did you think I was only going to bash this movie? One of the reasons I find the tone of The Prom so frustrating is that a genuinely traumatic thing happens to Emma in the middle. The ugly homophobia of the PTA, the microaggressions Emma suffers from bullies, how the school tricks her, and the way her girlfriend abandons her when she needs her most will send you in as much of a rage as any snarky nitpick.
9. When Trent ends homophobia using the Bible
Wooooow, why has nobody ever thought of this before? All we have to do is gently remind Christian bigots that things like tattoos and divorce are also technically sins? Honey, I grew up in the Bible Belt during the Bush administration when marriage equality was a hot button issue. That tactic does not work. Plenty of people have tried it, including me.
10. When the PTA…kind of…won?
Maybe the most infuriating part of the whole movie is that technically the town got what they wanted! Emma had her inclusive prom and the rest of the school had their "normal people" prom. They really only changed the minds of, like, five people, and Alyssa's mother (a very scary Kerry Washington) had her character development off-screen. It's a happy ending for Emma, who got what she wanted and danced with her girlfriend in public, but a lot is left unresolved.
11. When Meryl Streep raps in "Wear Your Crown"
No, just no. Hamilton (and its predecessors) did not give every musical license to hip hop. Stop this.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.