Everybody’s talking about Jamie, and with good reason. For one thing, he’s gorgeous. For another, he’s totally magnetic. The third reason, which ostensibly gives the movie its title, is that 16-year-old Jamie wants to be a drag queen. “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” a glitzy movie musical based on the West End hit, gives only a passing glance of Jamie’s actual drag performance, but this heartfelt coming-of-age spectacular is plenty entertaining. Following on the heels of “The Prom,” which debuted its movie version late last year to mixed reviews, “Jamie” is a glittering addition to the fast-growing sub-genre of the queer teen musical. Finally, musicals are playing to their audiences.
Set in the Yorkshire town of Sheffield, England, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” revolves around aspiring teen drag queen Jamie (Max Harwood). Though he’s comfortably out at his stuffy high school, he still incurs the wrath of the occasional bully or a conservative teacher (a brilliantly bitter Sharon Horgan). It mostly rolls off his back, thanks to his wonderfully supportive mother Margaret (Sarah Lancashire), and bookish best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel). On Jamie’s sixteenth birthday, his mum surprises him with a pair of glittering red heels, the ones he’s been saving up for. (Sad to think younger viewers will miss the glaringly obvious reference, in Yorkshire phrasing, to our Dorothy Gale.)
The bouncing opening number, “And You Don’t Even Know It,” sees Jamie waxing about his impending stardom a la “I’m The Greatest Star” from “Funny Girl.” The movie indulges in many fantasy shots of Jamie on a runway, dancing up a storm and serving looks to his adoring fans. (The show’s multiple ballads don’t quite stay in the head like the bigger numbers.)
The only problem is, Jamie’s drag persona is all in his head. She doesn’t even have a name yet, as his new mentor Hugo (Richard E. Grant serving aging queen opulence) points out. On a visit to Hugo’s drag shop, the former Miss Loco Chanelle regales Jamie with stories from her past. It’s here that the movie tries to squeeze in a montage about the AIDS epidemic, Lady Di footage and all, which feels too short to be anything but pandering. Sporting a flawless South Yorkshire accent, Grant is perfectly over the top for the saccharine material. He can hardly contain his gleeful envy when he tells Jamie, extending two quaking hands as if to snatch the youth from his pristine mug, “You’re still cooking!”
The plot revolves more around Jamie’s own self-actualization than his drag glow-up, which we see only in one scene. “A Star Is Born” spent more time in the drag club than “Jamie” does, though it certainly talks more about it. With so little evidence to go on, it’s tough to say whether or not Jamie succeeds in his endeavor. Though from the short drag snippet we get to see, it seems likely RuPaul might tell Jamie to “Stop relying on that body.”
The heart of the film is Jamie’s relationship with his mum, and Lancashire swings big with her third act power ballad “He’s My Boy.” A prolific British TV actress best known to U.S. audiences for leading Sally Wainwright’s “Happy Valley” and “Last Tango in Halifax,” the formidable Lancashire lass makes the most of the supportive mother role. Singlehandedly carrying a sub-plot about Jamie’s bigoted father, who wants nothing to do with his queer son, she’s practically in a movie of her own.
Written by Tom MacRae with music by Dan Gillespie Sells, the score for “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” won’t be showing up in lip synchs anytime soon. The musical numbers are largely indistinguishable from one another, serving more as the backdrop for the story, which is touching. The musical, which premiered on the West End in 2017, is based on a 2011 documentary called “Jamie: Drag Queen at 16.” The film’s credits include footage from the documentary, showing the real Jamie and his loving mum.
“Jamie” may be less offensive than “The Prom,” which courted controversy with James Corden’s over the top performance as a gay man, re-igniting the age-old conversation around straight actors playing gay. The more nuanced Grant will likely get a pass, beloved as he was in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”, which earned him an Oscar nom. But “The Prom” also had Meryl Streep, charming romantic sub-plots, and was packed to the brim with jokes. With its “Glee”-colored dance numbers and drag-lite drag scenes, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” just isn’t serving.
“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” is now in select theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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