Written by: Robin C. Farrell | September 17th, 2021
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Jonathan Butterell, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has arrived, as dazzling and sweeping as it is intimate, heartfelt, and earnest. The titular Jamie New (newcomer Max Harwood), daydreams as most teenagers do, longing for adventures beyond his small town and glamorous self-expression. In Jamie’s case, this leads to his devoted mission to become a drag queen. With the support of his loving mother (Sarah Lancashire, the BBC’s Last Tango in Halifax), best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel), and self-appointed mentor, Hugo (Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Jamie commits to developing his identity, connecting with his distant father, and preparing for one unforgettable Prom.
Based on the stage-musical of the same title, which is based, in turn, on the BBC Three documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, some of this film does trend towards the theatrical: in large crowd scenes, onlookers often stop and focus on the main characters as they deliver moving soliloquies. It suits the film’s own inner workings and style, though, and the musical numbers feel far more organic. Transitions from speech to song and dance are consistently seamless, in large part due to the cinematography (Christopher Ross, Cats). The fashion is likewise stunning. Wardrobe is almost a character in this film and the costume design by Guy Speranza (The Last Vermeer) sparkles in every possible way.
The film also succeeds in its light touch when addressing the complex areas of Jamie’s queer identity. Perhaps too light for some, maybe not detailed enough for others, but within the context of this story, the questions all feel earned, and while prejudice is present, it’s not the entire focus. Jamie, himself, is clear on who he is. The challenges he faces, though, are centered on figuring out how to express himself to others and which battles to fight when he meets oppression for doing exactly that.
Max Harwood kills it in the titular role and Richard E. Grant is a delight, as ever; even though having a queer actor (let alone a drag queen) in the role of Hugo/Loco Chanelle would have been preferable, and though the film doesn’t sag anywhere in particular, it’s definitely a bummer that Hugo doesn’t have a bit more screen time. The scenes in which he does appear, however, are terrific.
Director Jonathan Butterell lands a startlingly impressive feature debut. Coupled with Tom MacRae’s screenplay (based on his own book and lyrics from the stage show) and Dan Gillespie Sells’ music, they deliver a film that’s fresh and highly entertaining. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie probably won’t convert any viewers who don’t generally like musicals, but for those that do, this one will undoubtedly leave you humming, dancing, and smiling.