James Corden has certainly become a divisive figure amongst the musical theater community, with many fans lamenting his repeated casting in Hollywood movie musical adaptations throughout the years. It has even reached a point where there is a change.org petition arguing to keep him out of the upcoming Wicked movie adaptation (which currently has just over 100,000 signatures). However, do his performances warrant the extreme backlash? The fact is, Corden has only starred in six live-action movie musicals with a semi-prominent role in only four (even if it may feel like more), but his performances range from perfectly fine to cringe-inducing.
However, are the opinions on his character portrayals a result of the films themselves being poorly made and written, or is it because of his performance and acting choices? Let’s take a look at the four musicals that Corden has played a somewhat prominent role in, ranking them from worst to best.
4. Rob the Mouse (Cinderella)
Cinderella (2021) is a bit of a mess, to say the least, and James Corden as one of the mice (as well as him being a main producer of the film) is symptomatic of said messiness. Though Corden was in very little of the film, every appearance of him as Rob the Mouse feels grating because of how the humor of the film falls flat. The most egregious example of this is once the mice are turned into humans, there are numerous times when the film cuts away from the energy and fun of the ball where Cinderella is meeting Prince Robert for some unfunny banter between the mice.
Because of his producer status, these moments read as Corden giving himself more screen time in the film for his own sake, otherwise, there is no other reason to move away from the central plot and romance of the story to listen to Rob the Mouse talk about going to the restroom using his “front tail” and how noisy and exciting clapping his hands is. Also, this film gave us the nightmare fuel that was human James Corden’s head on Rob the Mouse’s body floating and screaming for far too long in one scene, which definitely doesn’t help make his “comedic” performance any more enjoyable.
3. Bustopher Jones (Cats)
Cats (2019) is another one of Corden’s performances that begs the question of whether it was the source material or his acting choices that led to his performance being so critically panned in the film. Cats as a film adaptation is already a difficult sell to audiences and seeing as he received a Razzie Award for “Worst Supporting Actor of the Year” for his performance as Bustopher Jones, it could go either way.
Like in the previous entry on this list, his character does have a lot of cutaways from the action currently going on in the story for his character to crack more jokes. However, the one saving grace of this character is that, because of Cats’ narrative structure, his jokes (which land poorly more often than not) don’t feel like as much of a detractor from the story as they do in Cinderella. Corden is by no means good in this film, but the rest of the film’s low quality and questionable performances distract from his performance and make it more bearable by having it be less of a standout overall. It’s not good, but at least it’s forgettable.
2. Barry Glickman (The Prom)
Corden’s performance of Barry Glickman is a mixed bag. Corden puts a lot of energy and effort into his performance, capturing Barry’s exuberance well while still being able to hit the emotional core of the character. Depending on how much background the viewer has with the source material, Corden as Barry can be very acceptable and even enjoyable. On the opposite end of the scale, however, seeing as Barry Glickman is written as a very narcissistic and camp gay man, it is very easy for the character to verge into gay stereotypes if not played with the sincerity that comes from lived experience.
As Corden is not a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, he has received backlash for his performance as Barry as many felt it fell into those flamboyant stereotypes with much of it feeling very inauthentic, which is an understandable perspective to have. Your mileage with his performance will depend on how much his characterization of Barry bothers you, as his performance is actually pretty okay on its own. Corden is clearly having fun in the part and enjoying being in such an over-the-top musical like The Prom, even if he doesn’t have the life experience to make Barry Glickman as realistic as he could be.
1. The Baker (Into the Woods)
James Corden is at his best when he’s not trying to be funny (ironically enough). Even among such a star-studded cast as that of Into the Woods, Corden holds his own and gives a strong performance as The Baker. His musical numbers are enjoyable, and he is able to stay grounded in the film’s more serious moments. He plays The Baker’s inner conflict about being a father very well, and has a believable relationship with The Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt) with their duet, “It Takes Two”, being extremely wholesome.
Not only this, Corden embodies The Bakers overall character arc well, making the character sympathetic and emotionally resonant by the time the song, “Children Will Listen”, comes around at the end of the film which marks the completion of The Baker’s transition into trying to be the best father he can for his son. As this is Corden’s first real foray into the musical movie adaptation genre, his solid performance was a surprise to those who were only familiar with him from his late-night talk show. The Baker shows that Corden actually can act, sing, and generally perform well, and when he is playing a role seriously, it’s easy to forget his talk show persona and just see him as the character.
In all fairness, James Corden as an actor is actually fine, and he appears to genuinely care for the craft itself when given the opportunity to dig into a role with more depth to it. He puts a lot of energy into his performances and can play compelling roles when given them. It’s only once his roles take a turn for comedic relief that they cross that line of being grating to audiences. He shouldn’t be completely written off as an actor, but the general annoyance that the musical theater fan base holds for him is understandable when 2/4 of the musical roles he has featured in have been unenjoyable to say the least.