This will not be a popular film in rural Indiana.
Alright pandemic, you win. I forced myself to skip the film in a movie theatre and watch it on Netflix. Thankfully, the film has a surprising metaphorical content that loses nothing when watching it at home.
A musical based on a Broadway Production, it stars Meryl Streep, James Corden, Andrew Rannells, and Nicole Kidman as celebrities who enjoy being celebrities. Suffering criticism after the quick collapse of their new musical, they seek attention by traveling to a small imaginary town in Indiana to help a gay student banned from her high school prom.
Despite their selfish intent to garner publicity, they bond with Emma, the student played adorably by Jo Ellen Pellman, and challenge the school. We Hoosiers are not treated kindly in the following exchange between the school’s Principal (Keegan-Michael Key) and the anti-gay P. T. A. Leader (Kerry Washington):
Key: “The State’s attorney wants an inclusive prom because that’s what they feel best reflects America’s values.”
Washington: “Well, this isn’t America. This is Indiana.”
And there you have the roller coaster ride the movie will take you on from beginning to end. Sure Director Ryan Murphy’s film has its ups and downs, but the enchanting musical score composed by Matthew Skyler captures the battle faced by gay Americans of all ages as they fight to be accepted as normal.
Like Ms. Pellman’s Emma, James Corden’s Barry Glickman (who has nothing in common with an Indianapolis Federal Prosecutor of the same name) were both kicked out of their homes as teenagers when they admitted being gay. Corden’s surprised reuniting with his mother will bring tears to your eyes as it did his.
The quality of the film is reflected by the song and dance routine of Andrew Rannells as he challenges anti-gay students reliance on Christianity as justification. I was left hoping that he would politely mock the Indianapolis Archbishop who demands removal of gay teachers in Catholic schools while remaining silent as our Government executes ten Federal prisoners in Terre Haute this year, several during the Christmas season.
Though the film revolves around both Streep’s Dee Dee Allen as she fights to discover a lost life and Kidman’s Angie Dickinson leadership role with a depressed Emma, the movie will warm your heart as it speaks directly to young people who identify as LGBTQ. The ability of Emma and her girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) to find friendship in their high school community makes this not just a watchable film but a memorable one.
Let me close with a comment about a particular diner seen in the film. As I watch Streep and Key have lunch at Applebee’s as their relationship broke barriers, I was reminded of eating dinner at an Applebee’s four straight days during a week long jury trial in Muncie two years ago. Given that my client was found not guilty of murder, maybe there is something magical about their food.