*Warning: This review may contain mild spoilers for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie*
After multiple delays due to COVID-19, Jonathan Butterell’s film adaptation of his own award-winning musical he developed with Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom McRae, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is finally streaming on Amazon Prime Video, after Disney sold the film’s rights to Amazon Studios. The film, which tells the story of Jamie New (Max Harwood), a 16-year old teenager who doesn’t fit in with his peers and aspires to become a drag queen, is an extremely fun and catchy musical, featuring some terrific performances from its lead actors. Unfortunately, however, a clichéd story prevents its musical adaptation from truly soaring the way it should be.
Jamie lives in Sheffield with his mother (Sarah Lancashire) and shares a somewhat distant relationship with his father (Ralph Ineson), who has disowned his son for being gay and liking to dress as a woman. The 16-year old teenager suffers from lots of personal troubles as he studies in a conservative school which doesn’t allow him to express himself truly. His teacher, Mrs. Hedge (Sharon Horgan), tells Jamie that pursuing his dreams will never happen, as he needs to set realistic expectations for his career. But he doesn’t care about that, as all Jamie dreams about is becoming a drag queen. He will enlist the help of Hugo Battersby (Richard E. Grant), a former drag queen who will help him pursue his dreams even if he has to overcome significant adversity from his teachers and classmates. They call him a “freak show” and do not want to accept his anti-conformism.
What makes Everybody’s Talking About Jamie falter a bit is how its script is riddled with clichés and stereotypes on gender identity. There’s the father who doesn’t want to accept that he has “a son” because his son isn’t manly enough for him, and then there are the school bullies who project their pain over Jamie by calling him a barrage of stereotypical and homophobic names. These representations feel somewhat contrived and prevent legitimate character development for both Jamie and its side characters. For example, Mrs. Hedge wants to stop Jamie from going to Prom in a dress because she thinks he will “ruin” prom for everyone else, as it will be all about Jamie instead of the students. Of course, she’ll eventually have a change of heart once the students refuse to go in unless Jamie does, but all of these representations feel as predictable as they come.
It honestly feels like the film is set in a fine line between shattering stereotypes of gender identity for a mainstream audience while staying inside for its side protagonists. This results in a somewhat mixed experience for viewers who have already seen better movies that explored the themes Everybody’s Talking About Jamie does here, such as John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch or Édouard Molinaro’s La Cage aux Folles. Both of these films have a complete portrait and exploration of gender identity that doesn’t delve into stereotypes compared to what Everybody’s Talking About Jamie does here.
That being said, the film is still loads of fun and contains some of the very best performances of the year. Newcomer Max Harwood completely steals the screen as Jamie, both in musical performances and during talking sequences. He completely embraces the character’s freeing persona, which helps him greatly when he has to perform exuberant musical numbers of some of the year’s catchiest songs. If you thought In the Heights and Vivo had memorable music, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie may very well curb stomp all of them. No, seriously. The songs have such a catchy (yet simple) beat to them. It won’t be hard for you to scream the songs at the top of your lungs as soon as the movie’s over.
Through songs, this is where the movie succeeds the most. The best scene of the entire film is a demonstration, by Richard E. Grant‘s Hugo, of what Drag Queens are, in a video montage of Hugo’s time as a drag queen. Its song, “This Was Me,” is the most emotional of the entire film. The heavy subject it discusses, the AIDS crisis and its impact on the LGBTQ+ community, is treated with so much care that the film’s emotional crux becomes quite heavy for a moment as Jamie finally learns what roles Drag Queens played in the community. It’s hard for Jamie because he must make a difficult decision that will pave his future, to either conform to his school’s dress codes and pre-conceived ideologies of what a man should be or show the world “the real Jamie.” And the scene that arrives straight after the montage will guide Jamie to be who he is, with Harwood bringing so much emotional power to the role that any film he does next will be primed for success.
Both Harwood and Grant elevate Everybody’s Talking About Jamie‘s predictable material. Its musical numbers make for a fun time at the movies through expertly directed choreographies that feel large in scale for a theatrical production and transpose themselves well through the cinematic language. It’s just a shame that the film never wants to soar past its superficial study on gender identity and what it means to indeed “be yourself” aside from a clichéd three-act arc for Jamie and its side characters, but it’s still a great time nonetheless. Just don’t expect a thought-provoking story, and you’ll be fine.