Synopsis: Inspired by true events and adapted from the award-winning hit musical from London’s West End. While his classmates plan their livelihoods after they leave school, Jamie New, a teenager from Sheffield, contemplates revealing his secret career ambition to become a fierce and proud drag queen.
Stars: Max Harwood, Sarah Lancashire, Lauren Patel, Shobna Gulati, Richard E. Grant, Sharon Horgan, Ralph Ineson, Samuel Bottomley
Director: Jonathan Butterell
Running Length: 115 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Two things a number of audiences have been missing over the past year were movies and musicals and are they ever in for a make-up session in 2021 with the release of no less than five movie musicals to hit both of their passions at once. Despite June’s surprisingly dismal reaction to the highly promoted big screen adaptation of the Tony-winning In the Heights, perhaps something a little more under the radar for American audiences has a chance to build some word of mouth. At least that’s what the producers of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie are hoping for, I’d imagine, and they certainly are being smart with releasing the film first for a limited run in theaters before making it more widely available on Amazon Prime a week later.
Born in the West End in late 2017, the musical is the true-life story of Jamie Campbell, a County Durham teenager profiled in the documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16. Though I haven’t seen the documentary, the musical written by Tom MacRae and Dan Gillespie Sells evidently hews close to Campbell’s and there’s a particular simplicity to the writing which implies no one needed to craft in dramatic peaks and valleys to shape it into a traditional three act structure. Some stories are meant for the stage, others are destined to be musicalized…Campbell’s tale of growing up gay and fabulous in a small North England village was certain to be dazzling.
It’s Jamie New’s 16th birthday and what he really wants is a pair of sparkly red high heel shoes he’s saving up for. He’s been earning money for them slowly with an early morning paper route but his hard-working mum (Sarah Lancashire, Yesterday) might have a surprise or two to unwrap when he gets home from school. First, Jamie (Max Harwood) has to get through a day where his classmates don’t get him because he’s gay, his teacher (Sharon Horgan, Together) doesn’t see a future for him as a performer, and his only close friend is Pritti (Lauren Patel), “a Muslim girl with a Hindu first name”, is also the target for teasing. As his mom shields him from a father (Ralph Ineson, Gunpowder Milkshake) that doesn’t want to know him, Jamie takes a few cautious steps forward into the world of drag, but without a clue of how to dip his toe in the water he’ll need some assistance before diving full-on in.
He finds a willing teacher in Hugo Battersby (Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?), the proprietor of a vintage clothing shop which caters to Jamie’s particular needs. Still appearing occasionally as Loco Chanelle at an amateur nightclub, Hugo encourages Jamie to come fully out of his shell and embrace a full alter ego yet to be named but once released can Jamie balance both personas? With prom coming up, there are rules to be broken, lessons to be learned, and truths to be revealed – all set to a lively set of up-tempo tunes and ballads that run the gamut from toe-tapping mild earworms to run-of-the-mill “I Want” songs.
The film is ruled by Harwood’s lighting in a bottle performance as the charming Jamie New – you can see why he’s a bit of a mystery to the kids in his class but also someone you feel nearly pulled toward to be friends with. A solid triple threat, Harwood takes command of the movie and never relinquishes control for a second…not that he’s selfish with his scene partners because he’s sharing the screen with a number of talented performers in their own right. As his fellow outcast with the same noble spirit, Patel is another scene-stealer and even if her role is severely underwritten, she’s smart enough to lean away from the obvious choices and make Pritti an interesting person to watch even when she’s in the background. The mother character in these films is either the tyrant or the tear-jerker and Lancashire falls into the latter category but doesn’t oversell it so it’s sappy. She’s got a knockout 11 o’clock number and then follows it up with a scene where she just gets absorbs an highly emotional moment which is maybe even more moving. Right there you have a trio of great performances…and that’s not even mentioning Grant’s lovely turn as an aging drag performer (his song sneaks up on you in devastating ways) and Horgan’s pleasant voice which shows why her role is easy to stunt cast on stage.
There’s entirely too much goodwill pulsating through Everybody’s Talking About Jamie from frame one to dissect it too much, a truth which I’m sure has kept the ticket sales flowing not just in the West End but in international productions currently popping up around the world. A US version is set to debut in Los Angeles in early 2022 and a Broadway production might not be far behind. I’m not totally sold that the music itself is all that memorable, if I’m being honest, but I also would want to experience the show live in person to get a feel for what that Jamie New energy could be like. This is one of those shows that lives or dies on the actor playing Jamie so it’s entirely dependent on that star quality. Thankfully, the film version nails the casting (and then some) with Harwood and finds a few pleasant surprises in the supporting players as well. You may not be humming the tunes as you leave the film behind but you’ll remember the story. If this one isn’t for you just wait, Dear Evan Hansen is out in a few weeks, tick, tick…Boom! releases on November 19, and the long-awaited remake of West Side Story arrives on December 10.