The concept of the “movie musical״ has been thrust back into the cultural zeitgeist as the film industry re-embraces the fun yet risky genre. First came the summer hit “In the Heights,” an adaptation of the Lin Manuel Miranda musical. Now, “Dear Evan Hansen” is under the spotlight and facing heavy criticism as it rises in popularity. However, one film has slipped under the radar: the bright, upbeat coming-of-age story “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.”
Now streaming on Amazon Prime, the film is an adaptation of the 2017 West End musical of the same name. Directed by Jonathan Butterell and adapted for the screen by Tom MacRae, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” captures the loud, extravagant theatricality of the stage show while using the film medium to create a stronger, more intimate emotional core.
Jamie New (Max Harwood) is an eccentric gay teenager in a small English town where he dreams of becoming a drag queen. He faces much backlash from his peers, school and disapproving father but has endless support from his encouraging mother Margaret (Sarah Lancashire) and best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel). Jamie works up the courage to perform in his first drag show while exploring his gender expression at school.
Harwood brings his character to life with extraordinary flair and heart. He takes us on Jamie’s journey of self-expression as he not only discovers himself through drag but also gains the confidence to live without it. He eventually finds the guts to go to prom without the shield of his fearless, vivacious drag persona, but simply as himself in a dress.
Richard E. Grant gives a stand out performance as Hugo, the lively shop owner who sells Jamie his first dress and quickly becomes his mentor, uplifting him with advice and stories of his time as the glamorous drag queen “Loco Chanelle” in the 1980s. As they grow closer, Jamie realizes the gravity of the discrimination that burdened Hugo’s generation, later telling Pritti, “Drag is not just a TV show, it’s a revolution.”
Dan Gillespie Sells’ and MacRae’s musical numbers are reminiscent of 80s, 90s and 2000s pop. In a highly stylized fashion, most songs take us out of the film’s universe to an over-the-top montage or dance number, rather than cutting to close-ups of facial expressions. This decision works in the context of this musical because it embraces the inherent fantasy of the musical numbers and gives us elaborate, high-energy sequences that pay homage to drag culture.
The first song, “Don’t Even Know It,” introduces Jamie’s ambitions and the bold personality he keeps hidden at school. The scene starts with our protagonist daydreaming in class, suffocated by the dreary gray tones of the classroom and drab school uniforms. Pink and blue lighting slowly seep onto the set as students start to dance around him, marking our transition out of realism. We’re then transported to a technicolor dreamscape where he dances through colorful, electrifying clubs. At the song’s climax, Jamie bursts out onto a runway, fiercely strutting his glam makeup amid the flashing lights of paparazzi and surrounded by his posse of dancers.
The film’s consistent tone and successful integration of songs into the plot makes a compelling argument: perhaps the key to a great movie musical is light-hearted self-awareness paired with a stylized directorial vision, rather than the self-serious, hyper-realistic approach currently dominating the genre.
The highlight of the film is Hugo’s heart-wrenching number “This Was Me,” a new song written for the movie adaptation. As the former drag queen tells Jamie about his past, we see a montage of “Loco Chanelle” in action, edited as a series of home videos. Stripped-down and raw, glimpses of Hugo’s life flash before us: performances, parties, and, eventually, a shift from clubs to hospital rooms as his lover falls ill due to AIDS. Poignant lyrics and visual references capture the nuances of gay culture in the 80s and 90s, like a scene of Princess Diana visiting AIDS victims and the wave of heartbreak that struck the community after Freddie Mercury’s death. Musically, the number benefits greatly from its 80s rock influence, and Grant’s voice captures the style perfectly — full of grit and sorrowful nostalgia.
This song truly gets to the heart of the film: intergenerational connection within a culture. Jamie is struck by the pain and hardship that his community went through, and he decides to pay it forward by being unapologetically proud. Holding the torch that Hugo passed down to him, he finds the courage to perform his first drag show.
Even though this film is largely unknown at the moment, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a sudden spike in popularity among theatre lovers after “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” makes its North American stage debut in 2022.
“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” is an uplifting coming-of-age story with the power to show queer youth their culture and history, giving them the confidence to explore and embrace their true selves. The film’s musical and visual tributes to 1980s drag culture make for a vibrant, high-energy tone with an inspiring emotional core.
Rachel Golkin is an Entertainment Editor for the 2021-2022 school year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.