I don’t know if its true to say that everybody’s talking about Jamie. Considering how popular the stage show is I’m surprised not to have heard more. Maybe it’s because it came out on Amazon Prime, maybe it’s because it feels quite slight but it is fun and engaging and worth at least a small amount of conversation.
The story follows 16 year old Jamie New as he tries to find and establish his identity in the one place where lots people are inclined to keep their heads down and blend in; school.
I swear there are more musicals based in High Schools than any other location. Apart from this and the obvious Disney one there’s Grease, Hairspray, School of Rock, Spring Awakening, The Prom, Be More Chill, Dear Evan Hansen, Footloose, Fame, Matilda and Anna and the Apocalypse. The only setting with as many musicals devoted to it is history and that is a considerably less specific environment. Maybe there is something in how we all have experience of school so it is more relatable but all the jumping on desks and dancing in the canteen is beginning to feel over familiar.
This one is based on the true story of fledgling drag queen Jamie Campbell who caused consternation when he wanted to wear a dress to his prom. The whole episode was captured, at Jamie’s invitation, by a BBC documentary film crew and inspired The Feeling’s Dan Gillespie Sells and Doctor Who writer Tom MacRae to create a show for The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. Making its West End debut eight months later in November 2017 is was shut down by the pandemic in March 2020, making a poorly timed four day return just before Lockdown 2, then relaunching in May this year. In the downtime they’ve turned it into a movie.
The aforementioned The Prom, which made its leap to screen last December has similar themes with its female lead meeting objection when she wants to take her girlfriend to her prom. I’m not going to tell you it was a better film but I was quite moved by that story, although more I think by the implication than the execution. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie didn’t get me in the same way though and I think I was distracted overload of cliche. As well as the classroom cha-chas and the bedroom ballads there is a whole plot thread involving Jamie’s bigoted dad who ‘so desperately wanted a son but got him’. It’s his main motivation; he even says it twice. There’s the school bully too and the small minded teacher. There are few surprises here and while that kind of simple storytelling is fine on stage, it doesn’t work as well in a film. The whole disappointed father who wanted his son to do more conventionally boyish things is just too reminiscent of Billy Elliot, which is a much much better movie in every respect. Whereas that film had its darling of British TV in Julie Walters, this one has Sarah Lancashire and she does lift it.
Newcomer Max Harwood is strong in the lead and Lauren Patel as his best friend Priti almost steals the show but the highlight of the casting is Richard E. Grant. Grant appears as ageing drag queen Hugo Battersby/Loco Chanel who becomes an inspiration and mentor to Jamie. His backstory did get me in the feels as you see him as a young man living through the AIDS crisis and the death of Freddie Mercury before experiencing his own personal tragedy. The context that this puts Jamie’s own crusade in does add power to an otherwise flimsy narrative. Young Loco is played notably by John McCrea who was great recently in Cruella but also originated the part of Jamie on stage.
There are blips on Jamie’s journey. I thought it was a shame that the moment he blossomed into his alter ego Mimi Me and found his true identity, that identity appeared to be quite mean to his friends and family but he finds his peace and the end, while corny, is nice.
In the end though it is a shame that the deepest thing about the film is the colour of Jamie’s eyeliner.
The Ripley Factor:
Drag was traditionally a bit misogynist. Rather than celebrating womanhood it tended to caricature it and the best analogy I’ve heard is comparing it to straight men pretending to be gay. We’ve moved past that though and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie does present femininity as something to aspire to, especially in its conclusion.
The female characters are generally empowered and respectable and the inadequacies of Jamie’s father are compensated by the love and fortitude of Lancashire’s mother. In fact if you are female or wanting to be female in this film then you’re okay but if not; if you’re the dad, the bully or the headteacher, then you are flawed and ineffectual.