The Prom (12A)
Verdict: Exuberant fun
The Midnight Sky (12A)
Verdict: Ponderous sci-fi drama
While I wouldn’t want to overload you with positive news in the week in which the first Covid-19 vaccines were administered, The Prom offers another way out of our vale of tiers, if only in the form of two hours of exuberant musical escapism.
It stars James Corden, who I know gives some people the needle — and not in a good way — but he is perfectly OK here.
His performance as a flamboyantly camp actor has been lambasted as an ‘offensive’ caricature by a straight man, but let’s give the guy a break. It’s not his fault he was cast, and not his fault he’s heterosexual.
Showtime: Corden and chums
Yes, he strives a little conspicuously to match his mighty co-stars Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, but this big-hearted film can accommodate a slab of ham.
Streep is Dee Dee Allen and Corden is Barry Glickman, a pair of self-centred Broadway stars certain of their own place in the firmament and convinced that their lavish new show Eleanor!, a musical about Eleanor Roosevelt with Dee Dee in the title role and Barry as a wheelchair-bound FDR, will be an enormous hit.
Or, as Barry smugly puts it: ‘This tour de force will not be forced to tour.’
Naturally, monumental pride is followed by a vertiginous fall, and Eleanor! turns out to be a stinker of career-busting proportions.
Nursing their badly bruised egos, Dee Dee and Barry, along with perpetual chorus-line girl Angie (Kidman) and ‘resting’ actor Trent (Andrew Rannells), hatch a shamelessly cynical plan.
They need a decent liberal cause to wrap in their false embrace, so they can resurrect their reputations by becoming celebrity activists.
They find their cause in conservative, smalltown Indiana, where Emma, a gay high-school student (sweetly played by newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman), has been told that she cannot attend the prom with her girlfriend.
That part is based on a real-life episode in Mississippi ten years ago, when assorted celebrities actually did rally round.
The story duly inspired the Broadway musical from which this film is skilfully adapted by director Ryan Murphy, best known for creating the TV hit Glee.
Out in Indiana, Dee Dee and Barry inevitably learn some hard truths about themselves and even find traces of humility.
That’s not exactly a spoiler — everything about The Prom is thoroughly predictable, right up to the pot of golden sunshine at the end of the narrative arc.
But for the most part it is joyously and wittily done, with a few cracking tunes, plenty of smart lyrics and numerous wry mentions that will delight fans of stage musicals. Godspell, Chicago, South Pacific, Evita and Hamilton are all either directly or obliquely referenced, along with Bob Fosse and Stephen Sondheim.
There is strong support, too, from Kerry Washington as the buttoned-up chair of the parent-teacher association, and Keegan-Michael Key as the likeable school principal. Tracey Ullman pops up as well, as Barry’s estranged mom.
Most of all, though, it’s a blast seeing Streep inhabit the kind of outrageous diva she emphatically isn’t in real life.
Also, having just watched Kidman as the glacial wife in the compelling TV drama The Undoing, it’s a relief to see her having fun.
More stars, but very little fun, are to be found in The Midnight Sky, directed by George Clooney.
It’s a dystopian sci-fi tale set in 2049, about a scientist (Clooney himself, lavishly bearded, in one of his furrowed-brow roles).
From his base in the Arctic Circle, he must get word to astronauts returning from a two-year fact-finding mission to a distant planet that, while they were away, Earth has been devastated by an unspecified cataclysm.
Everyone but him has been either killed or evacuated — or so he thinks, until he finds a young Irish girl (Caoilinn Springall), an elective mute, who becomes his constant companion, conveniently enabling him to explain what is going on to her and, by extension, to us.
Clooney and Springall
The action flits between Clooney’s character, Augustine — who, to cap everything else, is dying of cancer — and the mission crew, played by Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo among others.
So it’s a fine cast, but there is not much any of them can do in the service of a strangely ponderous drama which suffers from the lack of an obvious antagonist.
In an attempt to jolly things along, there is some rather forced extended banter on the craft about naming a baby, and a jaunty chorus of Sweet Caroline during a space walk, but levity, it turns out, is an awkward substitute for gravity.
I wish I could say that The Midnight Sky is the perfect way to fill a black hole in your weekend viewing plans. Alas, it’s not.
The Prom and The Midnight Sky are both available on Netflix from today.
Fugitive Margot can’t outrun Bonnie and Clyde
Dreamland is a glossy crime thriller set in rural Texas in 1935.
English actor Finn Cole (from Peaky Blinders) plays Eugene, a teenager devoted to detective comics, who finds fact beguilingly merging with fiction when he discovers a fugitive female bank-robber hiding out in the family barn.
This is Allison Wells (Margot Robbie), who has a $10,000 reward on her head after her latest smalltown armed robbery, carried out with her lover, ended in several fatalities.
Stranger danger: Bank robber Margot Robbie
Oddly, nobody mentions a certain Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, but it’s impossible for the audience to ignore them — and Arthur Penn’s classic 1967 film — even if the characters seem cheerfully unaware.
Dreamland is certainly no Bonnie and Clyde, with director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte seemingly not entirely sure whether to concentrate on style or substance, but it has a striking Depression-era chic as Eugene goes on the run with Allison, after deciding that the huge bounty is not nearly as alluring as she is.
I’m Your Woman
There is a similar theme in I’m Your Woman this time set in the 1970s, with Rachel Brosnahan (from the U.S. House Of Cards) as Jean, whose criminal husband Eddie goes missing after a gangland escapade backfires.
Since the rival gang thinks she knows Eddie’s whereabouts, she must scarper too, in the dead of night, with the help of his mysterious associate, Cal (Arinze Kene).
The complication in what would otherwise be a straightforward hide-and-seek thriller is that Jean has a baby with her — she was unable to have children, so Eddie just brought one home one day.
Despite a sparsity of dialogue that gets a little wearing, Brosnahan gives a fine central performance.
But director Julia Hart’s film promises quite a bit more than it delivers, leaving us to make sense of too much that just doesn’t add up — not least Jean’s own sudden skill as a killer after an hour or more of floundering wildly out of her depth.
Dreamland is in cinemas from today. I’m Your Woman is available now on Amazon Prime Video.