'Everybody’s Talking About Jamie' is inoffensive enough. However, given the subject matter, it might have been worthwhile to give a bit more offense.
- ✨ Richard E. Grant is as charming as ever.
- ✨ The dance choreography and cinematography are occasionally inspired.
- ✨ The central plot thread becomes tangled in numerous side plots.
- ✨ The songs themselves are lackluster at best.
- ✨ A story explicitly rooted in revolutionary actions shouldn't feel so tame.
An oft overlooked element of drag performance is that it has roots in revolution and the fight for queer equality. These days, gay men dressing up in the glamour of faux and exaggerated femininity is largely commercialized in the spirit of celebrating a diversity of gender expression, but drag bars and the atmosphere they promoted were the hallmarks of safe haven for a community that was routinely harassed and attacked by strangers and police alike. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie does acknowledge the history of drag as fundamental to queer history, but it tempers its perspective into a milder sort of revolution, one that feels more benign in a world where gay acceptance is quite different than it was a generation ago. The result is passably enjoyable enough, but it also fails to make much more impact than a boisterous declaration of its own existence.
The plot, loosely based on a real high schooler’s experiences as documented in the film Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, revolves around Jamie (Max Harwood) as he pines to become a drag queen as his high school tenure comes to a close. Despite his teacher’s (Sharon Horgan) insistence that her students have realistic career aspirations, Jamie comes to the conclusion that he should not only advertise his love of feminine presentation to the student body on his way out the door into adulthood, but should in fact attend prom in full drag persona. A local clothing shop run by an aging queen (Richard E. Grant) provides him with the requisite mentorship and sets him on a path to developing his artistic voice in an environment that holds him back.
As straightforward as that sounds, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is actually somewhat convoluted in the scope of its characters, from Jamie’s extremely supportive mother (Sara Lancashire), to his distant father (Ralph Ineson) who wants nothing to do with his gay son, to his Muslim best friend (Lauren Patel) who is afraid to rock the boat too much in her academic aspirations, to a school bully (Samuel Bottomley) who has nothing to look forward to after the social hierarchy of high school. This overstuffed cast not only dilutes Jamie’s central motivations but threatens to make him the least interesting character in his own story, as everyone’s reactions to him are generally more engaging than the generalized avatar of white male gayness that Jamie represents. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with that characterization, especially if Jamie is meant to represent more than just his own character in the fight for gay equality, but it ends up simply feeling like a vehicle for whatever milquetoast observations the musical can conjure about the nature of prejudice and acceptance in the current decade.
This would be more worthwhile if the songs were at all memorable or unique, but alas, they are not. Occasionally the music video framing of the setpieces makes for visually engaging material, particularly when the filmmakers opt for dream logic to experiment with transforming sets and chromatic filters, but the songs that accompany them range from forgettably dull to repetitively grating. It’s not uncommon for musicals to suffer from pacing issues due to their songs, but you really feel it in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, especially in the back half when character arcs converge with sweeping declarative verse and Jamie's motivations have to ping-pong between his supporting cast to ensure all narrative threads are accounted for as he stumbles his way into off-screen revelations.
The film isn’t without its charms. Richard E. Grant is as delightful as he’s ever been in his supporting mentorship role, even if he’s cast aside by the narrative all too quickly. The dance choreography is occasionally inspired, and the story’s message of not needing anyone’s approval but one’s own is a worthy one, especially for the young adult crowd. But the film’s specific allusions to the more radical nature of drag queen activism feels somewhat underserved by a film that reduces that sentiment to a pat assurance that bigotry can be overcome. Yes, a boy wearing a dress to prom may be radical in the sense that its allowance demonstrates a shift in societal prejudices, but it’s a far cry from the action that's needed on the front lines of queer culture, either when drag queens were a rallying focal point or now as fascist regressivism threatens to overshadow recent gains in acceptance. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is inoffensive enough. However, given the subject matter, it might have been worthwhile to give a bit more offense.
Everybody's Talking About Jamie opens in theaters and on Amazon Prime on September 10, 2021.
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