Adapting beloved musicals for the screen is never an easy task, with few movie musicals truly living up to their stage counterparts. This past year has seen the release of a number of adaptations that divided critics and audiences alike, from Netflix’s The Prom to Dear Evan Hansen (which hits theaters next weekend). But Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a standout success, capturing the magic that has made the West End production a long-running hit while distinguishing itself in major ways. It’s a delightful film with a wonderful leading actor making his big screen debut, and it is a worthy adaptation of the original show.
Based on the true story of Jamie Campbell, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie follows the story of Jamie New, a teenager from Sheffield who has one dream: to become a superstar drag queen. Jamie is sure of himself and knows his dreams are too big for his small minded school. With his best friend Pritti by his side, Jamie decides to make prom his personal coming out party where he will reintroduce himself to the world. But will he be able to maintain his sense of self through the firestorm his choice sets off in his community — and his family?
Part of what made the original stage musical a hit was the stage presence of original star John McCrea (who cameos in the film), and without a strong Jamie the audience isn’t as invested in the story. When Max Harwood first struts as Jamie in the opening number “And You Don’t Even Know It,” his energy is infectious. Jamie is a force of nature who knows he’s a star in the making, daring anyone to tell him no. That sense of freedom doesn’t let up for the next two hours, even when Jamie faces bullies, homophobic teachers, and a disapproving father on his path to becoming the drag queen he needs to be.
Harwood remembers that Jamie is 16 years old even as he moves through the world with confidence and bravado. When he turns to the camera and sings, “And when you’re old, like 32/You’ll all remember Jamie New,” Harwood makes sure Jamie’s youth comes through. While there are several stand-up-and-cheer moments where Jamie tells the world he couldn’t care less what it thinks of him, there are also heart-wrenching scenes where we see how he fears that without his drag life, he isn’t special or interesting on his own. Harwood is a star. As much as the film is about Jamie becoming the drag queen he was always meant to be, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a star-making debut for Harwood.
Of course, Harwood isn’t the only one giving a fantastic performance. As Pritti, Lauren Patel provides the complementary sweetness to Jamie’s salty personality while still bringing a spunkiness to the character. Richard E. Grant has a blast playing the fabulous Hugo Battersby (also known as Loco Chanelle), Jamie’s mentor as he begins to create his drag persona. But Grant also gets one of the most moving moments with a new song created for the film. “This Was Me” features Hugo telling Jamie what it was like to live through the AIDS epidemic as a gay man and particularly as a drag queen. It contextualizes Jamie’s fight with queer history in a way that the original musical did not, and it’s the rare song addition to a musical adaptation that improves on the source material. Sarah Lancashire is perfect as Jamie’s fiercely protective mother Margaret, who buys Jamie his first pair of heels and supports his dreams from the start. Their relationship is moving and a highlight of the film.
Watching Everybody’s Talking About Jamie isn’t always an easy experience. It doesn’t shy away from depicting the discrimination Jamie faces. But it also makes sure to show the happiness in Jamie’s world. You know that even if he’s dealing with bullies right now, Jamie will eventually surpass them all. As he sings in his opening number, he’s a hit, and they don’t even know it. It is rare to see this kind of queer joy depicted onscreen, from the delight on Jamie’s face when he wears his heels to the large scale musical numbers that represent his wildest daydreams. In many ways, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is predictable. Anyone who has seen Billy Elliot has an idea of the basic tropes and story beats it will hit. But despite its familiarity, it still dazzles from the start. The film has a big beating heart with a lovable hero at its center, and everybody will be talking about this Jamie for a long time to come.
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Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is available in select theaters and Amazon Prime Video. You can watch the trailer below!