Issue #31: Holiday Movie Binge 🎁
WW84 + The Prom
Welcome back beloveds to Thirty, Flirty + Film proper! This last two weeks has already been a year, but we’re still very excited to be here with all of you, muddling through it all, and talking about Cinema™️.
Frankly, we needed an extra week to get well and truly rested. But the good thing about the holiday season was finally getting some big ‘ole movies to watch. The bad this is that… they were not that great. We probably should have started the year with movies we really loved, but we can only work so many miracles. Maybe next week will be better?
Stay safe, and stay strong!
Cate on Wonder Woman 1984
Sadly, there’s no other way to say that Wonder Woman 1984 sucks except to just say it. The movie is not very good, and the depth of the failure of filmmaking here is so vast that it is genuinely disappointing.
2017’s Wonder Woman had its problems, but overall it was a thoughtful and engaging film that tried earnestly to work within the framework of the DCEU to create a story about a superheroine who fought for peace. Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince was radiant onscreen, and her sincere desire to stop the first world war and save mankind came through in every scene. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) acted both as foil and love interest, generating surprisingly strong chemistry that sucked you into the story. It takes a bit of energy to handwave the “woman finds her strength in a man” tropes away, but underneath is a story about a woman who is good… just because.
WW84 dispenses with all of that to bring us a Diana who has spent the last 60 years moping over a man she knew for a week. She is still acting the heroine—rescuing some young children and foiling a jewelry heist in the first action sequences—but she is friendless and alone, having closed herself off from intimacy and connection.
The inciting incident is the appearance of a wishing stone that takes as it gives, granting wishes only to take the wisher’s greatest strength in return. But after that, the plot is honestly a murky mess that I cannot begin to untangle.
Something something, Pedro Pascal is running an oil Ponzi scheme, something something, Kristen Wiig is supposedly dorky but just needs a brush and a fur coat, something something, Pedro Pascal is the stone now, something something Kristen Wiig is a cheetah. Oh, and Diana wishes to see Steve again and he...takes over some random guy’s body without his consent?
Aside from the massive misstep of Diana spending her one wish on (and losing her powers for!) someone who was at best a one night stand, it boggles the mind that she wouldn’t wish to see her friends, family or homeland again. Then there’s the matter of the movie being overstuffed with villains, neither of whom seemed to have any clear motivation besides “do bad stuff now.”
Kristen Wiig’s Barbara Minerva descends into chaos so quickly it’s rather alarming. She wishes to be like Diana—hot, confident and popular. So the stone gives her a makeover and suddenly she’s hot and can command a room. I feel like a couple of months with a therapist would have served the same purpose but ok. In exchange, she loses her humanity, which is how we end up with her final, terrible, CGI’d-to-hell-and-back battle scene as Cheetah.
Pedro Pascal’s Max Lord has a convoluted scheme in which he wishes to become the stone and then must subsequently trick other people into wishing for the thing he wants in order to make them happen. Then because he is the stone now, he gets to take something from the wisher in return? Honestly, just wish for control of the world’s oil reserves! Or even better, why not just wish for his existing wells to hit oil? Small scale villainy is always best!
Normally this is the part where I’d say I could go on and on about how bad the movie is but the truth is I can’t. I have no idea what happened—and it still somehow took two and a half hours to get it done. The movie lagged badly, and I was bored by the end of the first hour. I suspect I might have been more forgiving if I’d seen it in a theatre and at least had the energy of a crowd to carry me through. But on the couch in my apartment, all I could see were the flaws.
There’s so much wrong with the film that it’s genuinely hard to quantify, but luckily my favourite critic has already done it for me. From terrible CGI to a disconnected story to empty character motivations, WW84 is all flash and bang with little to no substance. It’s little wonder the studio was so eager to offload it to streaming. All I can really say is that I’d have been pissed if I had to spend real cash dollars on this movie ticket.
Zosha on The Prom
Look, despite my rep around certain people and maybe the confines of this newsletter, I am not here to spoil a good time. And at its crux, The Prom is trying so. hard. to be a good time; it is so earnestly, transparently, some (me) would argue sanctimoniously well-intentioned that it feels a little like staring in the eyes of a puppy who doesn’t get to come on a walk with you and saying no.
The Prom has the spirit, I will give it that. I, too, remember using Bible quotes in a middle school debate class to counteract the argument that “religious freedom” meant queer people shouldn’t get married. In a day when representation can feel so out of grasp, a movie like The Prom—which centers and affirms identities in addition to just representing them—is a rich overload to the senses.
And yet, here I am. I could apologize more, but we only have 30 minutes here and I’m not going to waste either of our time. As The Prom wears on, its aims feel more and more hollow, always tidying up never reveling in the mess (as both good camp and emotional groundwork should do). How can you base more than two hours of a musical on a parent who is actively and vindictively ruining a teenager’s life because she hates gay people so much only to have them enthusiastically embrace their kid in the end? Because this movie and musical are not actually all that interested in gay people or the struggle. The Prom is so cloying in its aims that it completely undermines them—about a few acts before it even actually does undermine them by providing them a little open-and-shut story. What begins as a fight—for love, for queer rights, for the business we call show—dribbles out one bit of emotionally false moment after another until all that’s left is, well, a Ryan Murphy production.
It could have been more than that! Really it should have been. The Prom didn’t have to be bad—even after Murphy pulled the classic move of having the Broadway originators try out for their roles only to give them out to stars. Again, I remind you, at its heart, this is a movie about queer love, performance, how some things are worth sticking up for, and being true to oneself will always pay dividends no matter how hard the road gets.
But it is such an incredibly hollow exercise, as both a message and a movie. For a film that is supposedly a “love letter to Broadway” (so much so that whole numbers exist just to talk about what theater means to us), it is alarmingly uninterested in the productions of musical theater. I am not someone who thinks that live performance is the be-all-end-all for theater (record the performances, spread the wealth!) but there is a deep, rich tradition that isn’t just informed by the limitations of the form but expands upon them. A single-stage becomes a viewing gallery for both us and the characters, a cloth on the ground becomes an ocean above your head, an elevator brings us all to hell. When it’s adapted, a film’s goal should be to elongate the meaning of these things, piercing the heart of them. It’s not just a matter of moving otherwise static scenes to walk-and-talks. Chicago put the musical in Roxy’s head to show her delusions of grandeur; Sound of Music opens with that shot, 24 seconds to give you an idea of what music and freedom mean to Maria. And yet in The Prom, adaptation is only a halfhearted xerox, a chance to put technicolor lights on and make it flashy. In the hands of Murphy’s direction, these alterations neither illuminate nor inspire deeper analysis of the text, they simply zazz it up.
Musicals are just as much about the use of space and voice as they are the absence of those things. An empty stage is not simply an empty budget, but a focal point. A scene like “Unruly Heart” would allow our star to fill up the vacuum of her loneliness with her voice, calling out to each of us in a seat. In the film, she performs her number on a spinning bed, twirling along with those who watch her video from around the world. Again, I cannot argue with the intention of Prom—queer teens should see themselves in media and know they’re not alone, and social media has historically been a big part of that—but the scene is blocked so lazily. Maybe Murphy hopes to comment on how dizzying these past few days are, but ultimately it has all the effects of The Big Comfy Couch. It feels like a triumphant moment than just another trite treatment of an issue.
It’s deeply ironic, for a film that explicitly calls out how silly performative activism can be, that The Prom reminds us how much more acutely interested it is in star power over depth. The high-profile castings overwhelm the show, and while no one is Pierce Brosnan-level bad at singing, it is my moral obligation to tell you James Corden is here, and Meryl Streep and Keegan Michael-Key have great friend chemistry and zero romantic spark.
Perhaps in a different year, this movie might not seem so tone-deaf. On its face, I love the overdramatics and plotlines of a troupe of Broadway stars glitzily para-trooping in to become fairy godparents. But here we are, in 2020 (at the time of writing), at least 16 years after people realized that quoting the Bible didn’t make hypocrites feel bad about punishing gay people for existing. Years past when this sort of cookie-cutter cinematography should’ve dropped off the map. Months into a pandemic that surprisingly high-profile people think they can just paper over with a song or a single check. Eons after the queer community has acknowledged that marriage isn’t all of it and maybe heteronormativity ideals aren’t either.
And yet, The Prom is so obsessed with being a known quantity that it eschews any ounce of gray area or gray matter. If the movie wanted to dazzle me it should’ve followed its own example and leaped without knowing where it would land. Otherwise, it’s just spoiling a good time.
Assorted Internet Detritus
CATE: Somehow the universe decided that we needed MAXIMUM CHAOS before 2020 ended so I read a bunch of wild shit that I’m only just getting to tell you about. Firstly, the one you probably heard about if you’re extremely online: the saga of a journalist who threw her whole life away for a scammer. Then, more recently, a newly uncovered celebrity scam, an explanation of why all my panties are Parade now, a piece about why all your favourite sites offer financing now, and finally, an extensive oral history of the fashion industry’s response to the AIDS crisis.
ZOSHA: Great news, y'all: I actually read things over break! Like: An enlightening bucatini mystery. A deep dive on J.K. Rowling's whole...thing. A consideration of what Breonna Taylor's memeification meant. A look at the populist legacy of Trump's Twitter presidency. A necessary breakdown of one of the most mishandled parts of WW84. And a truly horrifying look at the toll the pandemic is taking on restaurant workers.