I’ll be sad when Feminist Rage month is over…however, as I’ve reflected rather regularly, it’s effectively Feminist Rage month every month. It could be considered a sign of progress when we have just as many knife-wielding women murderers as men. If so, I suppose this week’s film has a radically progressive feminist message? …Sort of?
The Loved Ones
After turning down classmate Lola’s invitation to prom, Australian teen Brent experiences the extent of her twisted scheming.
Poor Brent starts off his time as an officially licensed driver in just about the worst way possible. Joking around with his dad, Brent takes his eyes off the road for a second, realizing at the last minute there’s a figure standing directly in the car’s way. Swerving to avoid committing manslaughter, Brent crashes the car into a tree. While he survives, Brent’s father unfortunately does not, and the teen is in for a difficult physical and emotional recovery.
Months later, Brent is troubled but surviving thanks to the support of his serious girlfriend Holly. Looking forward to the prom, Brent will attend with Holly, while his bff Jamie has asked rather intense Goth Mia to be his date.
Things seem innocuous enough until awkward creep Lola asks Brent to the dance. Dissatisfied with his quite compassionate rejection, Lola is up to schemes significantly darker than expected. After going for a walk alone before prom, Brent goes missing, though his dog turns up dying of brutal injuries.
As it turns out, Lola and her father share a relationship bordering on incestuous and enjoy an interest in agonizing torture. Having been abducted by Daddy (legitimately the only name we ever hear for Lola’s father), Brent wakes up to find himself tied to a chair in a fake prom setup. While Lola poses him for pictures, it becomes clear the father/daughter duo have carried off similar crimes before. Lola seems pleased only when causing suffering, making the night one to remember for Brent, though not in the blandly pleasant prom theme kind of way.
Meanwhile, Holly, along with Brent’s mother, become more and more frantic as the police find evidence of foul play. Jamie, on the other hand, doesn’t particularly notice as Mia’s plans for the evening include getting high and hooking up.
When Lola demonstrates the existence of a terrifying-sounding creature locked in the cellar, Brent desperately focuses his energy on getting the fuck out of Dodge. Will he manage to escape before he discovers what exactly is lurking in the cellar?
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
I liked this one more than expected, especially considering how frequently we veered into torture porn territory. It did help at least from a male-gazey perspective that Brent was the victim rather than a group of busty blond co-eds. I will say there are many extremely gruesome moments made all the worse by being perpetrated with everyday household objects. The scenes where a fork and salt are used as implements of torture are particularly burned into my brain.
We waited quite a while for the more inventive elements of the film to take the spotlight (I mean, besides the torture), and those are the strongest pieces. It’s a genuine surprise to learn what’s lurking in the cellar and the extent of Lola and her father’s murder operation. Admittedly there are some plot holes to overlook, but the frequently silly & over the top approach makes it work most of the time.
I do wish Brent’s mother and Holly had more to do throughout the film besides look despondent. And I don’t totally get the point of Jamie’s B plot. It’s actually a bit irritating the way Mia is meant to be all cool and attractive but ends up getting slut-shamed by the writing for comedic effect. I think she has about three lines of dialogue as well, which is another approach that could stand some unpacking.
Though entertaining, I’m not sure this one quite falls into the category of feminist rage so much as pure rage. But I’m okay with that.
Would my blog wife make sure this one stays a while with a knife to the foot or not even bother to waste the chloroform? Read her review to find out!
Sequins and elaborate dance numbers have a special place in the Collab; partly as musicals feel written exclusively to lift our spirits (and ours alone), but largely because we are here for any and everything over-the-top. This week’s pick has plenty of sparkle and choreography for days–does it offer the degree of delight we anticipate from a Broadway adaptation?
After learning of an Indiana teen whose prom is cancelled after she asks another girl to the dance, several Broadway performers team up to save the day and demonstrate their selflessness as activists.
In small-town Indiana, the local PTA stirs up controversy by cancelling the year’s prom–a move widely regarded as all high schooler Emma’s fault. You see, Emma is the only out lesbian at her school. When she decided she’d like to invite another young woman to the dance as her date, PTA crusader Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington) lost her damn mind. Rather than refuse Emma’s request and allow a same-sex couple at the prom, the PTA responds by cancelling the dance altogether (largely to avoid being sued in a clear-cut case of discrimination).
Meanwhile, Broadway stars Dee Dee and Barry are having an even more difficult time (apparently). As it turns out, their egos may be a teensy bit inflated and it’s possible they demonstrate more than one trait of a narcissistic personality disorder…which becomes painfully clear when yet another production (Eleanor: The Eleanor Roosevelt Musical, which, for the record, I would see) is cancelled on opening night because of its unlikeable stars.
As Dee Dee and Barry catch up with perpetual chorus girl Angie and bartender between gigs (and former sitcom star) Trent, they decide their best shot to make a comeback is through celebrity activism. Learning of Emma’s cause, they tag along with Trent’s non-union tour of Godspell, conveniently traveling right through the heart of Indiana. Or whichever region of Indiana it’s meant to be.
Before we move on, I feel it’s important to recognize that these characters are played by Meryl Streep (brilliant, obv), Andrew Rannells (exuding Broadway energy), Nicole Kidman (looking very much the part of dancer but in a role whose purpose I don’t fully understand), and…James Corden. (Keegan-Michael Key is in this too, but we haven’t gotten to him yet.) There are a lot of problems with this film that have nothing to do with James Corden. I can’t blame him for everything. However, I do believe it’s impossible to fully enjoy this film at all if you (a) think James Corden was horribly miscast and playing an uncomfortable stereotype, (b) find James Corden smug and irritating regardless of his role, or (c) all of the above. We will revisit this later (believe we will revisit this), but I think you really need to envision these actors to better appreciate the experience of watching this film. And the extent to which it attempts to ride on their coattails.
Returning to our regularly scheduled recap: our 4 Broadway performers make a grand entrance at a PTA meeting in an attempt to teach the small-minded folks of a backwards Indiana town the error of their ways. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this doesn’t have the intended effect. However, on the front of small personal victories, Principal Tom Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key, no longer dressed as a dapper yet sinister nutcracker), lifelong Broadway fan, secretly thrills at meeting Dee Dee IRL.
While our team of 4 is determined to make Emma’s plight into a cause, Emma herself is less enthused about being in the spotlight. After the prom is back on, she is relieved that the fight is over. Meanwhile, Barry and the others are pleased to focus on important matters like Emma’s outfit for the dance. Though her date backs out, not yet ready to make their relationship public, Emma is nevertheless excited to celebrate with her newfound friends.
As Dee Dee learns more about Emma’s story, including being kicked out by her parents after coming out as a lesbian, she also learns about Tom’s reverence for the theater. Dee Dee is herself a small-town girl still recovering from a nasty divorce. Barry shares a difficult Midwestern past too, hailing from Ohio, where he was rejected by his parents after coming out as gay.
Just when things seem to be wrapping up nicely (and early!), the PTA pulls a total dick move and holds two proms: one that is “inclusive” for Emma to attend, and a real one for everyone else. Apparently the entire town gaslights Emma and doesn’t tell her the location of the real prom, leaving her all alone at the dance. With more loose threads to tie than ever before, can Barry find peace, Dee Dee and Tom happiness, an entire small town acceptance, and Emma her own form of expression to speak her truth? Phew.
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
Ugh, I find James Corden so smug and irritating. And not in the period drama “I can’t stand him but secretly fantasize about him emerging from a pond in a white shirt” way. I just don’t like him, his sense of humor, or the attention-seeking vibes that ooze from him at all times (though I’ve gotten quite a lot of enjoyment from “Carpool Karaoke”). He’s gotten a lot of criticism for his role in The Prom, though I’ve got to question many of the parties involved who decided to cast him too. It’s disappointing to see a straight man play a total stereotype of a gay character in a movie about fairness for the LGBTQ community. I would have killed to see Titus Burgess in this role.
Beyond Corden, there are several other major problems I can’t overlook. First, there are really two different tones the film strives for, and they are essentially incompatible. The film wants to be a satirical take down of celebrity activists who are completely out of touch with reality. At the same time, it tries to teach (an incredibly heavy-handed) lesson about acceptance. These two conflicting goals constantly undercut each other by trying to poke fun at our characters while simultaneously humanizing them. I quite like the old “Hollywood winkingly underscores its own hypocrisy” theme, but it was insufferable here. Another person I would have liked to see involved with this project? Rachel Bloom. Some of Meryl Streep’s lines already felt right out of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
My other issue here is the number of characters, and it’s never really clear who is the star. I think(?) the star is supposed to be Emma, but she’s a less interesting character than any of the members of our Broadway troupe. But even among these characters, the focus is constantly shifting, attempting to give each a satisfying backstory that will bring them to life. The result is that most of them feel like sketches, and we don’t get to see any of the supposed growth they experience.
Finally, the film’s insistence on wrapping things up so tidily and sweetly grates on my nerves. I do support the film’s message, even if it’s approximately as subtle as gay fetus holiday classicA New York Christmas Wedding (RIP, Azrael Gabison). And I think it’s important to make films about LGBTQ characters that aren’t a total downer. But I can’t wholly enjoy an ending that sweeps everything under the rug so that all of the characters can have a fun musical number at the end. It’s all very cute, but it feels empty when seriously the only thing a bunch of homophobic teens needed to change their mind was a song about loving your neighbor. FFS, even Mrs. Greene is smiling at the end and throwing hugs around after she spent the entire film bullying, harassing, and discriminating against a teenager.
What I find most frustrating is seeing the potential of this film, but then watching as it ultimately falls flat.
However, I will give this film major points for my new favorite mantra, “picture a Xanax in your hand” (though it’s really a Broadway lyricist who deserves credit there). And the costumes and choreography are as stunning as you’d expect to see in a Broadway production. As an added bonus, perhaps this will be the first film that some people associate with Indiana, aka land of Mike Pence, from now on. It gives me perhaps a problematic level of enjoyment to think about how much that would pain him.
I could see how this could scratch the Broadway itch for people missing live theater at the moment; on the other hand, I could see how another type of theater fan would regret that they didn’t simply watch 42nd Street on Great Performances (again).