Here are capsule reviews of some of the new streaming shows that dropped this week. It’s a something for everyone kind of week, and the happiest of all should be those who love Musical Theater, and those looking for shows that take on LGBTQI themes.
The Prom (Netflix USA) – This is the Ryan Murphy TV adaptation of a Broadway musical that’s finely calibrated to tick all the right boxes. It’s a High School themed storyline that has a lesbian student forcing the annual prom to be cancelled because the local PTA can’t accept how she may show up with a date. To recover from their disastrous Broadway opening, a slew of Broadway stars decide to swoop down on the Indiana town and rescue the girl and her right to have, and attend, a prom. With the likes of Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, & Kerry Washington in the cast, it’s obvious what kind of Hollywood muscle Ryan Murphy can flex.
It’s fun, energetic, and all done in earnest; but tell me if I’m wrong in feeling a bit underwhelmed. The songs all sound too packaged to please (and too similar to each other), the narrative about gender tolerance plods along with such predictable tropes, and some of the so-called plot twists are outright laughable. It’s almost like it’s too smart and glib for its own good, and there’s a sheen of artifice and gloss that somehow, I couldn’t put out of my mind. Still, I’m sure all those who went gaga over Hamilton, Evan Hansen, Greatest Showman, etc. will be gushing about this one.
Uncle Frank (Amazon Prime) – Here’s a Green Room kind of story that centers on bigotry on gender issues, just as much as it has to do with racism. It’s 1970’s South Carolina, and in Creekville, Beth Bledsoe (Sophia Lillis, who starred in It) feels she’s so out of place, yearning to head to NYU for her education. The only one she identifies with in her family is her Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany, and yes, he’s the one who plays Vision in the Marvel superhero films). When in Manhattan, where Frank teaches Literature, we eventually find out he’s gay and lives in with an Arab named Wally (Peter Macdissi).
When the patriarch of the Bledsoe family passes away, the road trip from NYC to Creekville comes about, and it’s a matter of Frank having to face his demons, as this was the father who never accepted his sexuality, and made sure Frank was constantly reminded about it when in Creekville. There’s impeccable casting and acting on display; you’ll just wish for more focus. The movie kicks off with Beth in the spotlight and she makes for a interesting prism, but then it shifts to put Frank in the center of the proceedings, and practically forgets Beth. Wally is a delight, never camping it up too much, while giving us a truly sympathetic portrayal.
Giving Voice (Netflix USA) – When African-American playwright August Wilson passed away in 2005, his associates immediately set up an annual August Wilson Monologue Competition. It’s an avenue for young High School students to compete nationally and get a chance to perform on a Broadway stage. All they have to do is act out one of the monologues from any Wilson play. This documentary chronicles the 2018 competition, by following the lives of 6 of the Finals contestants, and helping us appreciate their hopes and dreams and what the competition means to them. It’s an engrossing look into what make theater students tick, how you can’t pigeonhole them or generalize.
André & His Olive Tree (Netflix Singapore) – When chef André Chiang decided to close his Singapore restaurant in 2018, it heralded the end of a long 8-year run that saw this Taiwanese-born and French-trained chef reach the very pinnacle of the restaurant world. Hailed not only as one of Asia’s Best, Andre’s restaurant was regarded as one of the World’s most impressive kitchens. This documentary examines Why, and his attention to detail & perfection is artfully captured. His Octaphilosophy foundation to food preparation is discussed, but if you ask me, it doesn’t really come close to explaining his food creating ideas. It’s gorgeously shot, but there are also pacing issues. Still, it’s good to support an Asian chef.
Rose Island (Netflix Italy) – Based on a true story that stretches back to the late 1960’s, this humorous drama is essentially about anarchy and price of Freedom. Back then, a young Italian engineer found the means to build a platform in international waters off the coast of Rimini, and declare himself President of this self-governed island nation. Embarrassing Italy and the Vatican, by projecting itself as an island that was permissive and where one didn’t have to pay taxes, it’s sad to see the extreme reaction that this ‘island’ provoked. Giorgio Rosa passed away in 2017, and before his death, he personally gave his green light to this film bio-pic. Charming, and with a disturbing coda.