“You’re the best friend a boy, who sometimes wants to be a girl, could ever have!” Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’s titular character Jamie New (Max Harwood) says to his endlessly supportive best friend Pritti Pasha (Lauren Patel) after a scene where she gives him a much needed pep talk.
This interview is part of our “Outfest 2021” coverage. Be sure to check out the other articles and keep an eye out for new content!
Any typical teenager would need a good pep talk from their bestie every now and again, but Jamie is anything but typical. Jamie is fabulously gay and decides that he wants to be a drag queen.
The idea is cemented when he receives a pair of sparkly, Dorothy red stilettos from his mother (Sarah Lancashire as Maragaret New) as a gift for his 16th birthday. He employs the mentorship of Hugo, the local dress shop owner (Richard E. Grant) and learns that there’s more to being a queen than just a pretty gown and fierce moves.
Originally adapted from the hit West End musical, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie exists as a mostly faithful version of the popular show. Directed by Jonathan Butterell (who co-created and directed the stage play), the show is filled with heart and good feelings. While walking the Outfest 2021 red carpet for the film’s premiere, Butterell was asked if there was any difference between directing the movie and the play. He answered, “Cinema allowed me to fly, to use the camera in a way that showed scale, intimacy and production design.” When asked what he wanted the audience take-a-way to be, he replied simply, “A lot of joy”.
A lot of joy is what you’ll get in this very accessible film. The story revolves around Jamie wanting to be a drag queen as he completes his studies at school in the charming Sheffield. There’s a Glee like quality to the setup as we see the typical characters, the one teacher who wants children to be self aware and not have dreams (Sharon Horgan as Miss Hedge), the deadbeat dad who wants nothing to do with his son (Ralph Ineson playing Wayne New) but mom covers for him and the typical “definitely insecure, but kinda hot?” bully figure (Sam Bottomley as Dean Paxton). The surprise is the addition of drag queen cum drag mother, Hugo Battersby/ Loco Chanelle played with devastating brilliance by Richard E. Grant. Grant had large shoes to fill as he played the role originally inhabited by the delectable Bianca Del Rio (who has a fun cameo in the film).
As a character, the role can be easy to dismiss as just an attention grabber, but the lessons Loco Chanelle teaches Jamie – and the audience – are extremely important. It’s PG-13 so the scourge of AIDS is shown minimally, but the performances that depict the effect of the ravage and loss caused by AIDS permeate the screen. Jamie feels intimidated at first, sharing that he’s not ready to be a warrior, and not willing to have a cause outside of not falling in his new heels. One one hand, he should pay homage to those who came before him, but on the other hand, didn’t the fierce drag warriors that came before him fight so future generations (like him!) wouldn’t have to? His growth in the face of obstacle is inspiring and triumphant and a truly good time.
It’s a musical so expect people to break into song mid-sentence. It’s worth noting again that this is Harwell and Patel’s first feature. They both sing and do their own dancing and while you can see a bit of the jitters in some unsure dance moves, they have a sweetness between them that makes you wanna root for them no matter what. While it would be easy to compare this movie to Prom on Netflix (down to the unsupportive adult who suddenly changes face so they can participate in the final dance number), its Don Quixote “Dream the Impossible Dream” narrative is more akin to the 2000 sleeper hit Billy Elliot starring Jamie Bell.
There’s something to the propriety of Jamie’s journey that is specific to his ability. We hear him say he wants to be a drag queen, but when he performs the first time, he’s good. He knows what he’s doing, he’s probably been preparing his entire life. His journey wasn’t to learn how to be a drag queen, but rather for him to gain the respect needed to earn being called one.
There’s something new and exciting about seeing the new crop of zoomer stories. While Jamie has no qualms about being gay, and resistance usually rolls off of him like water off a swan, he does have very marked areas where his self-confidence is in question. Combine this with him being a 16-year-old who vacillates between thinking they have all the answers and learning that they have no idea of even the questions, and it causes a great amount of tension that is relatable and fascinating.
The songs do tend to bang you over the head a bit with #MESSAGE, but ultimately it’s a good message and there are plenty of fun visuals to entertain. The movie never really lags even if parts are predictable, it’s comforting. This musical is akin to a warm blanket on a cool night. It’s dependable and does what it’s meant to do. The movie features original score by Dan Gillespie Sells with Tom MacRae adapting the screenplay. Add this to Butterell’s cinematic, sweeping and moving direction and bright and bold set design for the lavish dance numbers and you have a fun movie with a good tunes that really deliver the message to “Shut up and Dance”!
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will stream on Amazon Prime starting September 17th.
Check out the Everybody Loves Jamie trailer here!
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