James Corden’s new performance in Netflix’s The Prom receives flak, with critics slamming it as inappropriate use of gay-face. Corden stars as Barry Glickman in the film, a gay Broadway star. Together with Meryl Streep’s Dee Dee Allen and their other Broadway friends, they create a prom for a young girl in Indiana whose school won’t let her attend with her girlfriend. The musical film, which premieres December 11 on Netflix, is based on the Tony-nominated play of the same name.
Also starring Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, and Kerry Washington, the star-studded movie is helmed by writer/producer Ryan Murphy. The film has been made available to critics ahead of its streaming debut and reviews are pouring in. While they commend the piece for several good points, Corden’s performance seemed to be their one point of contention.
In an article by Indiewire, critics say they are frustrated with Corden’s overly flamboyant performance. The actor, who identifies as straight, overplayed the femininity of his character in an effort that comes across as gay-face. Much of the frustration around this centers the fact that the film is supposed to be an uplifting queer story. However, Corden’s portrayal strikes a different note, getting in the way of that. While not everyone hated the performance, it appears like the general consensus finds it offensive, even regressive for today’s representation.
The Prom: A strong case of problematic miscast
With criticisms focused on Corden’s casting at the forefront, question of why a queer actor was not casted in the first place aroused. “After all, it is not like we have a shortage of actual gay actors who could give the role more pathos,” writes Samuel Spencer, Newsweek critic.
“Was Titus Burgess busy? Was Nathan Lane on holiday? Andrew Rannells is even in this movie, so we know he was available, and though he has fun as the out-of-work actor who wants everyone to know he went to Juilliard, this film would have been better had he been given the bigger role,” he added.
Opinions differ as to whether being queer is a prerequisite to playing a queer role. However, critics agree that it’s counterintuitive to cast a straight man as queer in a film that celebrates queer acceptance.
Digital Spy critic Ian Sandwell comments, “We’re not saying it’s a flaw merely to cast Corden in a movie. It’s specifically about casting him in this particular role of Barry Glickman.”
“Corden, as much of an entertainer as he is, is not an actor with the range to make it work. His performance comes across as dated and strikes a sour note in a movie that otherwise has a very welcome and heartwarming message,” he added.
It seems that the outrage from reviewers has less to do with a straight actor playing gay. Rather, it’s more on his demeanor leaning into effeminate gay stereotypes that can quickly become offensive. The late-night host is naturally theatrical, as evidenced by his performance in Cats, so the added femininity seems unnecessary. It sounds like it’s what ultimately doomed his performance in The Prom.