Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is based on the hit West End show about a Sheffield teenager who is determined to thrive in life and become a successful drag queen. Based on real life events, it follows 16-year-old Jamie (newcomer Max Garwood) and his divorced mother Margaret (Sarah Lancashire). His teacher, Miss Hedge (Sharon Horgan), tells his class they must be realistic about their career aspirations. Openly gay, Jamie knows he has more to give this world and dreams of being a drag queen. Everyone else just needs to learn he’s as fabulous as he knows he is.
He plans to reveal his new drag persona at the end of year prom. This causes a small ripple in the school, with the high school bully, Dean, refusing to attend. Miss Hedge complains that Jamie will overshadow and ruin the night for everyone else. He is advised to wear a smart suit and tone down his flamboyance.
No one is painted as a one-note villain, perhaps to the detriment of the story. Jamie’s absent father Wayne (Ralph Ineson) is the main opposition. He isn’t depicted as an abusive monster, instead, a close-minded old-fashioned father who is so wrapped up in his idea of masculinity he can’t see all the good parts of his son.
Separated from Margaret and expecting a son with his new partner, he wants nothing more to do with Jamie, who continues to crave his approval. Margaret continues to lie for her ex-husband’s absence, making up excuses and even forging a card in his name. Anyone who has had felt abandoned by a parent, LBGTQ+ or not, will have their heart strings at least a little pulled by Jamie’s broken parents.
There are very few stakes to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Many of those around him, including his mother and his best friend, Pritti (Lauren Patel), are accepting and loving. Of course, there is some opposition, mainly from Jamie himself. Although he is excited to transform himself into a beautiful drag queen, he knows he is changing his identity to escape how much he dislikes himself.
First-time filmmaker Jonathan Butterell spent years working as a choreographer and a theatre director, helping develop the 2017 musical. The musical scenes still feel small and stage like, not elevated to the big screen. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is still firmly set in its theatre roots, contained, and subdued, not spreading itself to new heights. Many of the scenes take place in bedrooms, schools, or minimal studio backdrops. Fans of the musical may be disappointed to not see these scenes elevated whilst other will appreciate the fact it hasn’t lost its kitchen sink origins.
The songs are all breezy and catchy, written by The Feelings’ Dan Gillespie Sells’ and screenwriter Tom MacRae. The soundtrack is a mix of uptempo numbers and affecting ballads, all delivered with a peppy earnestness that edges on the side of annoying. The composition specially written for the film and sung by ageing shopkeeper and former drag queen (Richard E Grant), ‘This Was Me’ is a standout. Highlighting the AIDs crisis through flashbacks, it reflects on how thankful the current generation of LBGTQ+ youth should be for those who fought through the Thatcher era.
Despite the general upbeat sweetness of the musical, it’s the ballads that really stand out. Margaret’s solo ‘He’s My Boy’ is an affectingly intimate song about the infinite unwavering love she has for her son. The disco-inspired pop songs can easily become interchangeable, although the title track is an earworm sure to get stuck in your head for days after viewing.
Max Harwood charms in his big-screen debut, mixing touching vulnerability and teenage confidence. Jamie is an endearing stand-in for those outsiders who just want to be themselves in the face of rejection. Richard E Grant gets a standout scene as a ghost of the LBGTQ+ community and their struggles, and you can tell he is having wonderful fun as his alter ego, Loco Chanelle. Sharon Horgan and Sarah Lancashire give Everybody’s Talking About Jamie a backbone as two strong women who believe they are doing the right thing for the 16-year-old.
The narrative moves along briskly enough, not getting stuck on subplots or twists. It’s predictable and at times overly sentimental, but it’s saved by modest performances. The empowering message gets shoved down your throat, and a happy ending always feels inevitable. As pleasant as this kitchen sink musical feels, it gets weighed down by its sugary feel-good message of acceptance and bubblegum pop music.
Perhaps the power of acceptance is an over-used theme in modern coming-of-age films, but it will undoubtedly still resonate with kids who have been denied it. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will play to your expectations while maintaining its freshness in large part thanks to the warmth of the cast. Those adverse to sugar, be aware, this light musical has a heavy sprinkling of saccharine.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from September 17th
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy