Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a reductive, self-congratulatory musical that deeply cheapens its real-life subject.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie…everybody, that is, except Amazon Studios, who have done little in the way of promoting a film they spent a great deal to acquire from Disney/Fox earlier this year, and who have unceremoniously dumped the movie onto their streaming service with little to no fanfare. Perhaps they were too busy with another big-studio acquisition that premiered just a few weeks earlier, a film whose marketing campaign included James Corden running into Los Angeles traffic and thrusting his junk into the faces of unsuspecting drivers. But perhaps such a comparison is a unfair; Cinderella, after all, is a known property featuring an all-star cast, while Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is an adaptation of a West End musical concerning a 16-year-old boy desperate to follow his dream of becoming a drag queen, starring a cast of mostly unknowns. Yet the two actually do share several key things in common: both feature subpar musical numbers, and more broadly, the movies themselves are absolutely dreadful. Jamie comes from the school of LGBTQ+ films aimed squarely at straight-identifying audience members, a plea for tolerance and acceptance that diminishes the very people it seeks to champion. Jonathan Butterell, Tom MacRae, and Dan Gillespie Sells, all of whom helped to create the original theater production, have returned to bring their tale to the big screen, doing little to hide its stage-bound roots.
The titular Jamie (Max Harwood) is bullied at school for his homosexuality, his only friend a Muslim girl named Pritti (Lauren Patel) mocked for her religion and the wearing of a hijab. For his 16th birthday, Jamie receives a much-sought-after pair of high-heeled shoes from his loving and supportive mother (Sarah Lancashire), setting him on the path toward his goal of becoming a drag queen, with his “coming out” to occur at the school’s upcoming prom. Meanwhile, Jamie’s inner thoughts are presented through musical numbers that include his fellow classmates and teachers, an appropriate bit of theatricality considering the storyline and lead character. But director Butterell hasn’t a clue as to how to stage the show’s fancy for the big screen, opting for a style that employs limited Steadicam shots cut together with basic point-and-shoot and… that’s it; the lack of kineticism in a film of this ilk is borderline shocking. The candy-colored aesthetics are obvious, to say the least, while the song themselves — with music by Sells and lyrics by MacRae — are interchangeable pop confections that sound like rejects from the High School Musical series. The choreography, meanwhile, is practically non-existent: the contrast between the self-described “fabulous” Jamie and the half-assed musical interludes meant to reflect his vibrant inner life is utterly jarring, while the one between that same inner life and his mundane surroundings is barely evident. Thematically, the film feels like a relic from another era, describing in great detail the meaning behind drag and its intersection with sexuality. Important discourse, certainly, but presented exclusively through graceless exposition dumps by characters who sound like they are reciting Google results. In other words, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie seems to exist in a world where RuPaul’s Drag Race isn’t one of the most successful shows on the planet, where drag as a whole hasn’t become a cultural mainstay, and also seems to believe that its straight-identifying viewers are all backwoods hicks whose ideas of drag and homosexuality come from old episodes of Laugh-In. There’s a sequence where Jamie meets a 60-something drag queen named Loco Chanel (Richard E. Grant) and, in the film’s most heavy-handed musical number, discovers the sacrifices that previous generations of gay individuals made for people like Jamie today. He also finds out that there was an AIDS epidemic that killed a lot of innocent people, information which the film paints as revelatory.
Perhaps Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is meant for a teen audience more likely to be unaware of these important bits of gay history, but the self-satisfied manner in which the film delivers them is wholly off-putting. Jamie proceeds to question if he should even continue with drag, as he outwardly states that he is nothing compared to these pioneers, and like everything else, while the sentiment is appreciated, it’s handled in the most overt, self-congratulatory way possible. It doesn’t help that Jamie is a bit of a self-entitled asshole, which makes him one of the more realistic portrayals of teenagers on screen in awhile, but also makes for unbearable viewing. Harwood, in his feature film debut, delivers an energetic and committed performance, although his singing voice is disappointingly as weak as the songs themselves. Sharon Horgan shows up in a completely thankless role as a bitchy teacher who literally tells the kids not to follow their dreams, while Ralph Ineson gets to embody the role of “Dad Who Wishes His Gay Son Acted Like A Man.” Both the stage and film versions of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie are based on the life of a real individual, Jamie Campbell, whose trials and tribulations were chronicled in the BBC documentary, Jamie: Drag Queen at 16. Campbell indeed proved to be a pioneer much like those before him, and his life and legacy deserve more than a few shitty musical numbers in a September streaming dump. Everybody should be talking about that Jamie; this one can sod off.
You can currently stream Jonathan Butterell’s Everybody’s Talking About Jamie on Amazon Prime Video.