MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
This week’s review is for a Netflix movie that premiered in December of last year. It was quickly dismissed by major critics and underseen by the masses, despite having a top-notch cast including Meryl Streep and James Corden.
I guess you could say that I missed The Prom in 2020.
That also seems to be the fate for Emma Nolen (Jo Ellen Pellman), a teenager in an Indiana high school, who is open about wanting to bring her girlfriend as her date to the school prom. Hearing of her intentions, the local PTA pressures the school to cancel the event. Emma soon finds herself treated as a pariah and the subject of bullying from classmates.
Meanwhile, a group of Broadway actors (Streep, Corden, and Nicole Kidman) are nursing their wounds after their new show closes on opening night. They scour the papers for a “cause” that they might champion to show the world how caring and selfless they are – and that could help them get hired for other work. They stumble upon Emma’s plight and decide to travel to Indiana to mount a protest, accompanied by an aspiring actor and bartender (Andrew Rannells) who has recently graduated from Julliard and can get them a ride on a bus headed that way with a non-Equity tour of Godspell.
Will they be able to come to Emma’s aid, save the prom, and rescue their floundering careers and bruised egos?
The story seems better suited for a community theater production than Broadway (although it had a run of 300 performances in New York) and the songs are catchy if somewhat hit-or-miss in quality. The film’s unquestioning championship of the LGBTQ+ community is second-nature for director Ryan Murphy, creator of Glee. There is no subtlety in its message.
And there is every reason to imagine that this film would not work, but I was won over by the commitment of the cast to the material (which also includes Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key, and Ariana DeBose) and the joyful celebration that results when actors and crew come together to celebrate inclusion and diversity.
As The United Methodist Church continues to ponder division and separation over this topic, I hope that you might find time to experience The Prom and allow its passion and sincerity to touch your heart and mind. There is a song midway called “Love Thy Neighbor” that is not afraid to list the many Levitical prohibitions that the church has managed to move beyond, encouraging listeners to take the words of Jesus to heart. It’s a nice little sermon accompanied by a big dance number around a shopping mall fountain.
When the world celebrated LGBT Pride Month in June, there were no denominational resources to link the church’s mission with this growing demographic. The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society as well as the General Commission on Religion and Race have acknowledged the need to widen the circle of love. There is no need to overthink a rationale or a defense for extending the Kingdom of God to all persons. But if you are looking for a kindhearted musical that is gentle enough to watch with your family and show to your church’s youth group, consider this your invitation to The Prom.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: An upbeat and positive message about acceptance and love.
Two pitchforks: Mild occasional swearing; bullying; hypocrisy; social drinking.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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