Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, 2021.
Directed by Jonathan Butterell.
Starring Max Harwood, Richard E. Grant, Charlotte Salt, Sharon Horgan, Ralph Ineson, Sarah Lancashire, Adeel Akhtar, John McCrea, Samuel Bottomley, Shobna Gulati, Rita May, and Lauren Patel.
Feature film adaptation of the musical about a teenager from Sheffield, England who wants to be a drag queen.
As a film adaptation, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (which sees Jonathan Butterell writing and directing this version of his musical stage play) hits more with dramatic emotional beats than showstopping dance numbers (music and lyrics are also carried over from Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae, presumably with one or two new creations for the movie). The problem there is that, as a drama, it’s not necessarily a good movie either, filled with amateurish performances, forced situations, ham-fisted dialogue, poorly developed characters, and a jumbled mess of a rushed third act. When it comes to the music, it’s almost impressive how uninvolving it all feels. Outside of occasional excellent use of color (especially blues and reds likely symbolizing accepting and warm spaces as opposed to potential hostility or public performance embarrassment), nearly every song has a combination of forgettable lyrics and unmemorable music.
That also hurts to write, considering Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a movie I want to like. If nothing else, and despite its flaws, it’s something I’m happy exists for anyone with interest in drag. Here’s another problem: the movie also doesn’t even feel targeted at its key demographic. The execution is so safe, manipulative, and hollow with expected feel-good moments and tidy conclusions that feel as if they betray the real experiences of the community the movie is for in favor of a surface introduction of the drag scene for straight cis heterosexual men such as myself.
That’s doubly frustrating since arguably the best parts of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie involve the discovery of identity aspect and creating a drag persona as if it were an RPG character. Here, that is centered on 16-year-old Jamie New (a fictionalized version as Jamie Campbell with both the musical and movie based on the TV documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, brought to life with an impressive debut turn from Max Harwood), a Sheffield boy that’s dreaming big of being a drag star, even if he doesn’t have the courage to tell or show his peers yet, including best friend Pritty (Lauren Patel). However, he does have unwavering loving support from his mom Margaret (Sarah Lancashire, who probably gives the best performance in the movie conflicted about how to approach several situations), encouraging his cross-dressing and putting in extra work hours to buy him a pair of glamorous red shoes for his birthday.
Jamie’s dad is missing from the picture (an unnamed character played by Ralph Ineson), shown in cloying flashbacks to disapproving of his son’s queerness. He walked out on the family disappointed that Jamie is his offspring after years of trying to conceive a son with Margaret. It’s harsh, and one major thing the film does get right is not even trying to redeem such a monster. Naturally, Jamie also has to deal with school bullies, mainly Dean (Samuel Bottomley), already possessing homophobic characteristics, so it’s no surprise that once he and the rest of the school catch on to Jamie’s interest in cross-dressing and drag, the insults and reactions only get cruder and more grandstanding. The narrative is building to one final prom before graduation, with Dean professing that if Jamie is allowed to dress like a girl, he will not go, which causes a ruckus for the school board and math teacher Miss Hedge (Sharon Horgan), all of whom disappointingly seem ready to side with the bullies and given to the demands.
Sometime during this, Jamie also checks out an old drag store run by Hugo Battersby (Richard E. Grant, loveable as usual), formerly a drag queen known as Loco Chanelle before the AIDS crisis. His backstory is shown through a poorly executed VHS tape montage that visually is intriguing (it has a raw feel to the prejudice and activism drag stars of yesteryear faced and participated in), but emotionally doesn’t generate a single reaction given it’s slapped together, rushed, and once again, not really catchy to listen to as a musical number. Jamie ends up taking the wrong ideas from the strength and pride of previous drag queens trailblazing efforts and firm freedom of expression, building up an egotistical persona that becomes toxic to loved ones.
This is also where Jamie has to seriously think about who he is and wants to be, address his self-loathing so that when he transforms into his drag persona, it’s not coming with extra baggage that makes him unlikable to be around. Simply put, he’s a major jerk to his most loyal supporters throughout most of the third act, which would be a fine route to go if the pacing was fine-tuned (there’s a part where he blows up in anger his mother, proceeds to get in a fight while taunting his father regarding his proud effeminateness, and then reconciles with his mom all within about 10 minutes). The fact that chasing his drag dreams quickly turns him into such a toxic person could also be considered problematic in its own right, but it does feel clear that it’s a teenager working out how this is supposed to improve his life and what not to do with the persona. As for Hugo, a heart-to-heart conversation could also have been beneficial, but the character is questionably underutilized.
Formulaic plotting and bland music make the story of Jamie somewhat forgettable, but as a cursory look into drag shows and stars, the film is mildly engaging. However, it should be better, especially since Max Harwood has a charming, flamboyant presence, superb delivery of wisecracking retorts, and does turn in a committed performance. Sadly, there’s just a lot of negative talking points to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. However, it is tough to hate outright accounting for the freshness of such a protagonist and topic exploration.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com