“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” the newest release from Amazon Prime Video, is a screen adaptation of a musical of the same name, based on a BBC documentary centered around Jamie Campbell, a sixteen-year-old student banned from his prom for wearing a dress. In the new film, the fictionalized but realized Jamie New wakes on his sixteenth birthday, saving up for a pair of ruby red stilettos, his sights set on becoming a drag queen.
Starring Max Harwood as Jamie, Sarah Lancashire as his mother Margaret, and a cast fleshed out with original cast members from the West End and cameos from drag queen Bianca Del Rio, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” is a vibrant movie musical that stands out among recent adaptations.
Jamie’s Name In Lights
Aesthetically, think of “Jamie” as a combination of “Sex Education” and “The Prom” — it is engaging, vibrant, heartfelt and more. With Harwood at the helm, the show has a presence that captivated me from start to finish, even when things got confusing or trite.
From the opening of the film, “Jamie” is unlike other stories centered around queer individuals — it’s not an immediate plunge into the ostracization and trauma of “coming out.” Though he is bullied at school, Jamie is met with an outpouring of support from his mother and best friend Pritti Pasha (Lauren Patel), who encourage him to find a dress for the prom.
The film does a wonderful job of establishing a distinctive look. When Jamie first breaks into song in the opening number “Don’t Even Know It” — largely in direct address to the camera, like a drag performance in and of itself — the Year 11 classroom is transformed into a nightclub and a runway, lit entirely in neon blues and pinks. This color palette, referred on the internet as bisexual lighting, only enhances the contrast of Jamie’s queer identity against the dreary mornings of Sheffield, England.
Movie Musical Magic?
Musicals are designed to break from realism — it’s the basis of the long-running gag of actors randomly breaking into song. And movie musicals can do things that stage musicals inherently can’t, right? This is where “Jamie” toed the line of becoming this larger-than-life piece and breaking from the realism of the story entirely.
It was successful in “This Was Me,” a song where Jamie’s mentor-in-drag Hugo Battersby (Richard E. Grant) recounts the history of drag in the late 1980s and ’90s through the framing device of an old VCR. We see Jamie thrown into the protests and into news stories around the HIV-AIDS epidemic, experiencing the life of “warrior queens” firsthand in preparation to don his own war paint.
The film was unsuccessful, in my opinion, in songs like “Work of Art.” In a hyper-modern, monochromatic, art gallery acid trip-type number, Jamie walks the halls in a failed attempt at drag makeup as a punishment doled out by Year 11 teacher Miss Hedge (Sharon Horgan). If it were a music video, I would be 100% onboard, but as a scene designed to advance whatever plot should have been strung through it, I was lost.
I was unimpressed by the ending, where the ugly realities of homophobia are boiled down to something digestible by a straight audience. Viewers are almost compelled to feel sorry for the antagonists, like Jamie’s absent father and the aforementioned Hedge and bully Dean Paxton (Samuel Bottomley), who believe that Jamie’s appearance at the prom in a dress would “ruin the night for everyone.” Maybe the show is trying to call attention to rampant bigotry against queer people, but it sympathized too heavily with the cheesy characterizations of awful people instead of with its coming-of-age hero.
After I finished the film, I immediately watched the beginning of it again. Whether it was for clarifying my own opinions, or because the first 20 minutes of “Don’t Even Know It” and “Over The Wall” were my favorite 20 minutes overall, I’m not sure, but “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” was still a fun time. The music makes you want to dance, the spectacle of the show is so enticing and, for its flaws, I’d tell any fan of musical movies to watch it.