“This story really happened. Then we added the singing and dancing.”
These words are on the screen at the start of the feel-good musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (streaming on Amazon Prime) and I immediately had a sense of the kind of movie this was trying to be: inspirational, predictable and desperate to be liked. The first ten minutes or so clearly marked this as a formulaic crowd-pleaser, the type of movie that gives me a headache from rolling my eyes too much. I settled in for what I feared would be a long two hours. Then something interesting happened: I started to enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, it is very formulaic and seems just as much based on fictional coming-of-age underdog movies as on the true events that inspired it, but it is also fun, with likable characters and good music. While I did do some eye-rolling, it is a feel-good movie that actually made me feel good.
The story is simple: Jamie New is a sixteen-year-old boy in Sheffield, England who dreams of being a drag queen. Life is difficult enough for him already; his father keeps his distance and he faces homophobia every day at school. When he decides he wants to show the world his true self (which involves wearing women’s clothing), he must confront bigotry head-on with the support of his best friend, his loving mother and his new mentor.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is based on the stage musical, which was itself based on the 2011 documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16. It has been directed by Jonathan Butterell, who directed it on stage, and written by Tom MacRae, who wrote the book/lyrics for the stage version. Due to that, I am assuming it is pretty faithful to its original incarnation. Still, it doesn’t come off as stagey. Jamie’s world feels as open and full of possibility as his fantasies. The production numbers are entertaining and find a nice balance between character and showmanship. Just because we have seen this stuff presented before doesn’t mean it isn’t done well here.
Of course, we have seen this world, and the basic story, many times before. When the formula was established at the beginning, I was able to correctly predict nearly everything else that was going to happen. However, a formula becomes one for a reason. When engaging characters with relatable goals are placed into this particular formula, it can be heartwarming and enjoyable.
I liked Jamie New. Played by newcomer Max Harwood, he is charming and bold, with a little boy hidden inside who doesn’t understand why his father isn’t there for him. The invaluable Richard E. Grant is his mentor, aging drag queen Hugo Battersby. He is there to inspire Jamie, so he only has a few scenes to make an impression, but Grant is as fun to watch as he always is. My favorite character is Jamie’s mom, Margaret, played by Sarah Lancashire. She is so encouraging, constantly telling her son to be himself, while also protecting him from how his father really feels about him. The scene where she sits at the kitchen table by herself, singing about what Jamie means to her (“He’s My Boy”) is so touching, bringing honest emotion the rest of the movie can’t quite match.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is derivative and tries very hard to be liked. Yet it is so joyous and pleasant that I enjoyed it in spite of my brain telling me that I am usually annoyed by movies like this. It only wants to be uplifting and celebratory. Since it succeeds at those things, it doesn’t need to be anything else.
3¼ out of 5
Max Harwood as Jamie New
Sarah Lancashire as Margaret New
Lauren Patel as Pritti Pasha
Richard E. Grant as Hugo Battersby
Shobna Gulati as Ray
Samuel Bottomley as Dean Paxton
Sharon Horgan as Miss Hedge
Ralph Ineson as Jamie’s Dad
Directed by Jonathan Butterell
Screenplay by Tom MacRae