While movie adaptations of stage musicals have remained popular through the years, it feels like 2021 has become the year of the musical. It started with In the Heights, which will soon be joined by Dear Evan Hansen, Lin-Manuel Miranda's directorial debut tick, tick...Boom!, and Steven Spielberg’s version of West Side Story. Joining that group is one that may not be as familiar to American audiences, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
Set in Sheffield, England, the film tells the story of Jamie (Max Harwood), an out-and-proud high school student. While it's a known fact around town that he's gay, he does harbor one secret: His dream of becoming a drag queen. With encouragement from his mom, Margaret (Sarah Lancashire), and his best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel), Jamie pursues his dream, finding help from local costume store owner Hugo Battersby (Richard E. Grant), who just so happens to be a drag queen who goes by the name of Loco Chanelle.
Jamie’s dream doesn’t go unchallenged, though. His father, Wayne (Ralph Ineson), has essentially been absent from his life following a divorce from Margaret, with his mom doing her best to hide Wayne’s disdain for who his son is. Jamie also has a teacher, Miss Hedge (Sharon Horgan) who seems to undercut his ambitions at every turn, and a classmate, Dean Paxton (Samuel Bottomley), who takes every opportunity to bully and make fun of him.
The original stage production team of writer/lyricist Tom MacRae and director Jonathan Butterell occupy the same roles for the movie. They do a good job in general in their roles, but their closeness with the project may have hindered their ability to translate it effectively from stage to screen. While broad characters and situations can work well in a theater setting, a movie usually requires more nuance, especially when telling a story like this.
As the title would seem to indicate, the only person we get to know well is Jamie, although his mom is also showcased to a good degree. Everyone else is given only surface-level examination, which is especially troublesome when it comes to the antagonists of the story. Each comes across as either over-the-top or ridiculously unreasonable, personalities that weaken the message of the film as a whole. Most viewers will already want Jamie to succeed; there’s no need to stack the deck in his favor so egregiously.
On the flip side, Jamie is not always a fully sympathetic character, which would be great if those scenes were treated in a believable manner. But just like those who don’t like him, Jamie acting in a petulant way over not getting exactly what he wants rings false based on what we know about him otherwise. His arc is also utterly predictable, which, given the relative uniqueness of his life, shouldn’t be the case.
MacRae’s lyrics touch many of the right notes when it comes to conveying the sentiments of the story, but the songs themselves are a bit generic. Musical theater fans will find themselves with a sense of déjà vu throughout the film, as nearly every song sounds exactly like ones that have been doled out on stage for decades. The only song that stands out is “This Was Me,” with Hugo singing about being a drag queen and living through AIDS epidemic. Curiously, this is also the only song that was not in the original stage musical.
Harwood, who’s making his film debut here, does a great job of embodying his character and has a nice voice. He could’ve modulated his performance better at times, but for the most part he succeeds. Grant and Horgan are the two best-known actors in the cast, with Grant rising above his thinly written character more than Horgan. Lancashire and Patel are both winning in their supporting roles.
It’s fantastic that Everybody’s Talking About Jamie features a young gay character whose challenges lie beyond merely coming out to his friends and family. But the generic songs and broad stereotypes do the story no favors, making it into a musical that’s not for the ages.
Everybody's Talking About Jamie will open in select theaters on September 10; it will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on September 17.