Poor Meryl Streep. Is your career struggling so much that you were forced to sign onto this putrid cacophony of nonsense?
Forgive me, I don’t typically give the game away quite so early, do I? But I cannot accurately describe this feeling of hatred that currently squats in my stomach like all of the bile in my body has combined to create a vicious, film-destroying monster.
Let me say first and foremost, I hadn’t read any reviews of this film, as I knew that I’d eventually want to take a look at it myself eventually and didn’t want to colour my view of the film. I’d heard murmurs from the grapevine about it, but nothing I put too much stock in. Now that I’ve watched it, I feel like I’ve been through some bizarre grieving process. It started as bubbling anger that soon rose to a boiling point, then it mutated into embarrassment. I was embarrassed for the actors involved, not to mention the very relevant story it was trying to tell, which was busy being defiled by simply the worst aspects of a terrible musical. Then, finally, embarrassment gave way to exhaustion, and that’s how I feel now. Still mad, but mostly just tired.
Behind all of this mess is (as I mentioned) a very relevant and worthy story. One we have no doubt heard or seen some variation on in the past decade or so. The story is based on a 2010 controversy in Mississippi where a teenage girl wanted to take her girlfriend to her high school prom. Because it was the bible belt, she was banned from the dance. This film (and the musical it is adapted from) take this premise, moves it to Indiana, and insert several caricatures of Broadway actors trying to be activists, one of which is James Corden playing an absurd cartoon gay man.
Now, I know there was a fair amount of controversy surrounding Corden’s casting and performance (not that James Corden being cast in anything should be uncontroversial). Still, I shut that out and wanted the film to speak for itself. Instead, the film opened its mouth and vomited onto my shoes.
I am a gay man. I have mentioned this before, I don’t think it’s a surprise. Generally, I don’t have too much of a problem with straight actors playing gay roles; I would rather they be played by an actor who identifies more closely with them, but if an actor is the right person for the job, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t play them. In no universe was James Corden right for this character. As far as the writing goes, he was reasonably unsalvageable anyway, but seeing Corden, a straight man, mincing around as the worst caricature of a gay character I have seen in years, boils my blood. It’s an insult, not only to the gay community at large but to the very serious story it is undermining with its willful ignorance. I’ve made no bones about the fact that I don’t rate James Corden, but this is a new low even for him. It’s hard not to be insulted when this is how gay people were still portrayed in 2020. I wouldn’t expect this from even the worst of the controversial comedians looking for controversy, much less of a film produced by a major studio and directed by a gay man, no less!
Ryan Murphy is the man behind this film. Predominantly known for his TV work, such as Glee and American Horror Story, his work can be described as ‘formulaic’ in recent years. He seems to work mainly with stereotypes, and sometimes this works. Glee, his first big hit, used many of these too, but at its best, it played against them and subverted them. It could be lazy at times, but not as bad as this.
This film is about as fundamentally wrong as you can get. Hooking the audience in with its meaningful and worthy story and then spending the next 140 minutes beating you over the head with stereotypes and clichés. What should have been a powerful statement for universal acceptance is instead a laughing stock. Something that preaches acceptance and equality while all the while being blindingly awful in its unknowing discrimination. It’s not just the terrible performance of Corden, but the presentation of his character. Trying to portray the genuine struggles of being LGBT in an unaccepting world through such an absurd character, played with such little grace, there is no way you can possibly take him, or the film, seriously.
My heart aches for the talent in this film who are so obviously trying to make it work. Andrew Rannells, himself an openly gay actor, tries to make his paper-thin character entertaining while sharing screen-time with a character who is such a blatant insult to his sexuality, and the young actors, who, bless them, are trying so hard to make their performances count. They act some of the more experienced performers off of the screen and seem to be genuinely passionate about the person they’re portraying. Keegan-Michael Key tries to get something redeemable out of the terrible script, but it’s a lost cause.
Then there’s Meryl Streep. Perhaps the most revered screen actress of the last thirty years, she sleepwalks through this film with a look in her eyes that tells me she’d rather have been anywhere else but this film, and who can blame her? Well, we should blame her. She could have put something, anything, into her performance. Instead, she acts blankly to people she can barely muster the effort to acknowledge as being there with her.
The music is, well, it’s undoubtedly there. That’s the best I can say, really. It’s cookie-cutter, run-of-the-mill, throwaway Broadway slop that any songwriters worth their salt could have thrown together inside a day. Like the rest of the film, it’s passionless. It has something to say, but no idea how to say it in any interesting way. There isn’t a single song that you will remember after the credits roll, and that’s the worst thing you can say about any musical. You need a song for the audience to be humming to themselves afterwards, and this film has nothing memorable on its soundtrack. I’m sure it probably worked better on Broadway, but it doesn’t translate well onto the screen.
SO, for the second year running, James Corden stars in a terrible musical film. When we thought it couldn’t get worse than Cats, he throws on a sparkly suit, affects a horrific camp American accent and minces about to once again prove why he’s the single worst actor who continually finds work in Hollywood. That’s quite the crowded category too, but there is absolutely nothing redeeming about him in this film in particular. Of course, it isn’t just him, but from the first line of dialogue he spoke, I wanted to tear my own eardrums out.
Overall, a terrible script, complimented by a mediocre soundtrack, with an admittedly partially-talented cast, comes together to form perhaps the worst movie musical I have ever seen. I feel insulted and ashamed to be a fan of musicals because this exists. To make matters worse, it takes a message of LGBTQ+ acceptance and shows it absolutely zero respect. How can you make a film where the central struggle is one of a gay person fighting for approval, and in the same breath, try and justify Corden’s character. I wanted to turn it off after fifteen minutes, but I stuck it out purely because I didn’t want to let it beat me, no matter how much second-hand embarrassment I felt for the talented actors caught up in this mess. This film truly is bottom of the barrel stuff, and I hated it in ways I never knew I could.
If this is the best Netflix can do, shut it all down now.