Released: 17th September
Seen: 27th September
In 2011 the BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 hit the airwaves. It told the story of Jamie Campbell, a 16 year old boy who wanted to be a drag queen and debut his drag persona of Fifi La True at his school prom. Keep in mind that back in 2011, Drag wasn’t as mainstream as it is now. At that point Drag Race, the show that would basically push the artform into the mainstream, was still a scrappy little show in its third season on Logo that would be lucky to rack up a half million viewers so going to school in drag was a big damn deal. Big enough to warrant a documentary.
That documentary then was seen by enough people to catch the eye of the West End and become a monster hit musical called Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and now the time has come for this hit stage show to turn into a movie.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie follows young Jamie New (Max Harwood), a 16 year old school boy whose only friends are a shy girl named Pretti Pasha (Lauren Patel), his mother Margaret (Sarah Lancashire) and Margaret’s more bombastic friend Ray (Shobna Gulati). On Jamie’s 16th birthday his mother gifts him a pair of bright red heels and encourages him to live his dream of being a drag queen.
Jaime starts to prepare, even getting lessons on drag from the legendary Loco Chanelle (Richard E. Grant) and prepares to go to his school prom in drag. Unfortunately, Jamie must deal with the stern and seemingly heartless rules set by Miss Hedge (Sharon Horgan), the bullying from Dean Paxton (Samuel Bottomley) and learn the truth of why his father Wayne (Ralph Ineson) never seems to come see the biggest moments in his life.
The story of Jamie New might read as a little familiar and that’s because it shares a ton in common with another recent musical about a gay teenager wanting to go to prom as their authentic self but being denied by the cruel homophobia of adults who should know better than to be massive assholes.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is basically what The Prom was trying to be if The Prom had style, substance and didn’t have James Cordon. It’s a big warm hug of a movie that shines a light on the harsh reality of being a queer teenager while also doing everything possible to show a strong and fabulous queer boy who pushes through and becomes something fabulous.
From start to finish, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a glorious musical that isn’t ashamed of the subject matter or the genre. If they’re going to be singing and dancing, it’s going to be a big bright gaudy fun time filled with bright colourful lights, costume changes and dazzling visuals that are clearly lifted from the stage show but amplified for film. If you’ve ever seen the recording of the play (highly recommend) you’ll even recognize some of the elements being copied over here but being given the kind of upgrade you can only really get with the ability to edit.
While the film might be called Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, I hope everybody’s ready to talk about Max Harwood who is making his debut here because this is not going to be the last time you see that face. He manages to make Jamie into the kind of person you’d love to meet, a sweet person who manages to deal with a lot of heartbreak and still come out of it doing a spin and a death drop. There is so much pure talent being shown in this one performance that it’s jaw dropping to realise this is his first movie.
Everything I just said also applies to his co-star Lauren Patel, who might have a less flashy role but absolutely kills every chance she gets. Especially at the end when she drops the microphone and steals everyone’s heart with one brilliant speech.
Where Everybody’s Talking About Jamie mildly stumbles (a stumble is understandable considering how high its heels are) is when they deviate from the musical with original songs that are not sung by the main cast, particularly as the film opens. The opening number of the show is the obscenely infectious You Don’t Even Know It and it really sets you up well for the joyous energy of the entire show… here it’s Everything by Becky Hill and it’s a fine song but it’s not right for this show and starts everything off on the wrong foot. They do this again later with a montage song, this time by Todrick Hall and it’s just wrong for this show.
There’s also a lot less energy than was seen in the stage show version of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. On one hand that’s understandable because this is a different medium and you can’t play for the back of the room when there’s a camera four inches from your face, but since this comes out after the filming of the stage show it means we can draw a direct comparison to which version is more alive and it’s not much of a contest.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is still fabulous, fun and energetic but there are points, particularly anytime that we have drag queens on screen, where you kinda want to see them gun it full blast and go nuts.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a wonderful adaptation of an important musical, easily accessible for queer teens who need that boost to touch the sky because they’re gonna be the one. It’s joyful and fun, a little imperfect at times but it’s still as comforting and warm as a perfect pair of shoes on a cool day. Everybody should be talking about Jaime because it turns out there’s a lot of good things to talk about.