Drag Queens are breaking into the mainstream like never before, and rightfully so. Our TV screens are filled with the constant conveyor belt of queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race and our pubs/clubs up and down the country are featuring an ever expanding array of vastly talented local queens. They are also appearing more regularly in films too and stage show adaptation Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is the latest production to see them strut their stuff on the cinematic catwalk.
The film stars newcomer Max Harwood as sixteen-year-old school student Jamie New. Not content with the more traditional career path that his teachers are pushing him towards, Jamie has his sights set on something entirely more glamorous – becoming a drag queen! So with the help of his best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel) and former drag queen Hugo Battersby (Richard E. Grant) he decides to attend his end of year school prom in drag. Tasked with transitioning this story from stage to screen are director Jonathon Butterell, in his feature length debut, and writer Tom MacRae – both no doubt hoping that everybody will in fact be talking about Jamie.
The film starts with an attention grabbing, upbeat opening number that will instantly get audiences on side, seamlessly blending the musical elements into the narrative. It goes on to establish Jamie’s situation quickly; he’s bullied at school, he has a poor relationship with his Dad and his teachers like to discourage his dreams of performing. The backstory about his father is largely conveyed through song, and this is quite an efficient way of providing audiences with the necessary context they need to understand Jamie’s life. However, overall the film’s drama is incredibly clichéd and really leans into the sentimentality of its story. Some of this is to be expected but when it’s continuously stretched over the film’s two hour running time it becomes severely unengaging, only further exacerbated by the collection of surprisingly melancholic musical numbers.
However, in saying that the film does have some merit to its drama. Having a mainstream film with its lead character being a queer school student is another important step in the representation of LGBTQ+ youth. It takes the opportunity to explain drag for those unfamiliar with it, shutting down some dangerous misconceptions about it in the process. Furthermore, through maybe the most powerful number in the film, courtesy of Grant, it gives audiences a brief insight into the queer history of activism and the AIDS epidemic. Whilst not going into any great detail about these elements, this will serve as a really accessible starting point for young audiences learning about queer culture potentially for the first time.
Harwood and the cast as a whole give very spirited performances, however at times their portrayals do feel like they would be more at home on the stage rather than the screen. Grant is the standout and certainly elevates the production as a whole, contributing a more impressive and convincing level of talent than his co-stars. The drag itself is also of a really high standard with all of the queens looking gorgeous – the costume designers, hair and makeup teams have done very well here. Amongst all the wigs and glitter make sure to keep your eyes peeled for some famous faces too!
It’s clear that Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a well intentioned musical and its importance for representation shouldn’t be diminished. It’s a light and fluffy lesson in queer culture set to a soundtrack of largely mediocre songs – some more high energy, camp bops would have helped with pacing and enjoyment, this is a drag queen musical after all! But unfortunately the focus on more clichéd drama and the over sentimental struggle of Jamie’s story do make the film somewhat tiresome.
Nonetheless, whilst the film will do little for older audiences, it may have appeal for younger viewers, queer and straight alike. Comparisons to Billy Elliott and The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert will be drawn, but Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’s only similarities to these titles are in its content and not its quality. So although it can’t be said that everybody will be talking about Jamie there will be somebody somewhere talking about him, it’s just a shame that the telling of his story here is far from the fabulous fanfare that it deserves to be.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is in cinemas and on Amazon Prime Video (UK) from September 17, 2021.