Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Amazon Original Everybody’s Talking About Jamie begins with the lines: This story really happened. We just added the singing and dancing. From the beginning, it’s easy to see why a life like Jaime New’s (Max Harwood), so full of pomp and cheer already, would lend itself to even more. Even his alarm clock, designed like a mini television set, is adorable, bleeping him awake gently instead of ringing shrilly. When he goes downstairs, he finds that his mother’s rearranged the fridge magnets to wish him a happy birthday and gotten him a card that reads, ‘Best chuffing son ever!’. You get the sense that even Monday mornings are great in the New household. Jaime himself is exactly the sort of character that feel-good musicals are centered around — brimming with confidence, a flair for the dramatic and daydreams that feature elaborate, over-the-top dance numbers.

Jamie’s dream is to be a drag queen, which, in the so-far rosy universe of the film seems entirely plausible, until it reveals that he lives in small-town Sheffield, his father’s outdated norms of masculinity have led to them being estranged and his at least one of his classmates is homophobic. Inspired by true events around the life of a British teenager Jamie Campbell, which inspired the BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 (2011), later adapted into the stage play Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the movie still manages to maintain an upbeat tone, largely through its vibrant, well-staged musical numbers. Even the songs that deal with sombre subject matter weave in notes of hope and optimism.

One particularly moving number, ‘This Was Me’ traces boutique owner and former drag queen Hugo Battersby’s (Richard E. Grant) past as a young gay man in London, his protests against Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28 ruling, which banned the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools, and his experience of living through the AIDS crisis. If the lyrics of the other songs are a bit simplistic by comparison, their inspired choreography and inventive use of visual styles (one song is shot partially in monochrome, another makes moving use of flashbacks) make up for it. The film avoids the impulse to shoot the songs like they’re music videos, with distracting quick cuts, instead wisely framing them to showcase the actors’ dancing skills.

Several conversations are dedicated to teaching viewers Drag 101 — why some men may feel compelled to adopt a feminine persona, what that entails, why the transformative experience holds so much power —  and many will come away with a new understanding of the experience. Jamie’s story, particularly his ambition of wearing drag to his high-school prom, might be incredibly specific, but its themes of self-acceptance and stepping out of the darkness into the spotlight are universal.

Recommendation in collaboration with Amazon Prime Video

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