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Welcome to 'The Prom': All dressed up and going nowhere

There’s a scene in “The Prom,” the new movie now streaming on Netflix, that snapped me out of my suspension of disbelief and, in doing so, led me down a rabbit hole of questioning so much more about what could have and should have been a winning musical with good intentions about the need for inclusivity.

No, it had nothing to do with the central couple — high school lesbians denied their chance to celebrate ritualistically with the rest of their graduating class.

And it didn’t have to do with the performances (more on THAT later) of those portraying stereotypical Broadway characters who head to an Indiana backwater to take up the girls’ cause ... and, yeah, give themselves some needed positive press.

The scene in question has to do with tablecloths.

Tricked out of a chance to attend the PTA-sanctioned (boy-girl couples only) big dance — moved to perhaps the most expensive and expansive Elks Club in America, never mind backwater Indiana — all seems lost for our heroine Emma until the musical theater brigade declares “It’s Mickey and Judy time!” and stage an inclusive prom in time for the big emotional wallops and musical numbers for the finale.

They set about gussying up the high school gym, setting up tables with tablecloths in the various colors of a rainbow.

When it’s time for the big event — when even the Mean Girls apologize to Emma after learning their lesson in a show-stopping number set in a mall much smaller than the Elks Club — the tablecloths had disappeared.

The decorations purchased with what’s left on the Broadway actors credit cards have morphed into an elegant, formal setting — all pristine white extravagance with glistening lights above, and a gym floor large enough for everyone to get down and boogie through the sort of elaborately choreographed dance number that we all remember performing at our own proms.

As I sat there at about the two-hour mark of the film, I asked aloud:

“What happened to the tablecloths?”

Now, of course, in the film adaptation of a Broadway musical a little disbelief should be expected on our parts. For instance, I totally accepted Meryl Streep — as a Tony-winning diva apparently channeling Patti Lupone — asking the high school principal out to dinner at “Apples & Bees.”

But, when the emotional through-line is that Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman) doesn’t want any grandiose gesture — because she just wants to dance in public with her girlfriend Alyssa (who, wouldn’t you know it, is the daughter of the self-righteous head of the PTA) — having the finale staged like something out of ... well, a Broadway musical ... seems all wrong.

The moment calls for subtlety, for focusing on the couple as the others stand (so to speak) in the wings. But you don’t fill a movie cast with familiar faces to have them off-stage for the finale.

Music, romance, anxiety and disappointment ... sounds like many a prom experience.

“The Prom” has become a lightning rod for criticism — for its style, its tone, the approach to its message ... and, in particular, the casting of a straight actor (James Corden) as a gay character.

Corden, the criticism goes, comes off as such a stereotype that one reviewer deemed his turn as Barry Glickman “one of the worst film performances of the 21st century.”

Fidning itself in the center of the ongoing controversy over how members of the LGBTQ+ community are portrayed on screen (and who is cast to play them), is yet another obstacle for a film that can’t help but trip over its own feet ... despite undeniably entertaining moments.

In an email, a friend addressed this dichotomy succinctly:

“The movie is ridiculous, offensive in parts, ridiculous and ridiculous but I kinda liked it.”

It must be noted, however, that he didn’t consider the tablecloths.

We don’t ask for much when we watch a movie, even one based on a Broadway musical. The one thing I want is for it to remain true to the reality it has presented.

Musical numbers break reality in films such as “Chicago” and “Mamma Mia!” but do so in the context the approach the filmmakers are trying to achieve.

In “The Prom,” however, it’s a mixed bag. The numbers featuring the Broadway types — with the exception of a Fosse-inspired piece between Pellman and Nicole Kidman — break the fourth wall with impunity.

Pellman’s Emma, however, keeps us grounded throughout. We root for her and, as she says repeatedly, all she wants is to accomplish her one goal (dancing with Alyssa) on her own terms.

The finale, however, robs her (and us) of that simple joy — when what should have been a moment of inspired victory gets lost in a misguided need to pull out all the stops.

“The Prom” is ridiculous, offensive in parts, ridiculous and ridiculous but I still kind of liked it.

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin, whose own prom would be a horror movie, can be reached at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com

Robert Galvin