As movie adaptations of semi-obscure West End musicals (that have yet to run on Broadway) are concerned, you’d be hard-pressed to find one as gay as “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” (Amazon Studios).
Featuring a cast of relative unknowns stateside, with Oscar-nominee Richard E. Grant and the always amazing Sharon Horgan being the exceptions, “…Jamie” is as daring as its titular character.
Inspired by the true story of Margaret and Jamie Cambell (aka Fifi LaTrue), “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” opens with the declaration, “This story really happened … then we added the singing and dancing.” Cute, right? Set in Sheffield, England, where gay, Year 11 student Jamie (out actor Max Harwood making his feature film debut) lives with his divorced mother Margaret (Sarah Lancashire) and has a morning paper route for his “shoe fund.” No, he’s not saving for a pair of Nike trainers.
It’s Jamie’s 16th birthday and his mother left a card and gifts on the table for him, including a sparkly unicorn t-shirt. But at school, it’s just another dreary day. He’s bullied by classmate Dean (Samuel Bottomley) and ragged on by careers instructor Miss Hedge (Horgan). Hedge wants the class to have realistic expectations about career prospects, and it seems like only studious Pritti (Lauren Patel) shows promise. This leads to “And You Don’t Even Know It,” the first, and one of the better, song and dance numbers, which takes Jamie and his classmates from the classroom to the club.
Jamie’s father Wayne (Ralph Ineson), who has a complicated relationship with his son, is a no-show for the birthday celebration at home, but Margaret and her best friend Ray (Shobna Gulati) do their best to make Jamie feel good. This includes the presentation of a pair of sparkly red platform high heels to Jamie. His own ruby slippers, if you will.
Fortunately for Jamie, he also has a best friend in Pritti, who used to play dress up with him when they were kids. Pritti, who describes herself as “a Muslim girl with a Hindu first name,” at first struggles with the notion that Jamie doesn’t want to stop playing dress up, that he wants to be a drag queen. But she soon realizes that they are still friends because they — the high achiever and the high heel wearer — don’t fit in with anyone else but each other.
With prom approaching, Pritti tells Jamie that not only should he wear the red shoes to the dance, but he should also come out as drag queen that night! This leads to the next chapter in Jamie’s quest — finding something to wear. An internet search brings him to House of Loco, run by drag performer and costume designer Hugo (Richard E. Grant) aka Loco Chanelle, who not only helps to dress Jamie, but also offers to be his mentor. This scene features one of the most heartbreaking moments in the movie in which they watch a vintage video tape covering the years 1987-1991, and the song “This Was Me” is sung.
Once these plans are set in motion, there are triumphs and there is tragedy. But fear not, a happy ending is in the making. Harwood does a fabulous job of bringing every facet of Jamie to life. He sings, he dances, he laughs, he cries, he overcomes the challenges that come his way. Grant and Horgan are as wonderful as we’ve come to expect, while Patel and Lancashire also making lasting positive impressions.
But “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” is a musical (by Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae) with mostly forgettable songs. As was the case with 2020’s “The Prom,” you probably won’t be humming any of the tunes on the way out of the theater in the way you might be whistling something from, say, “In The Heights.”
Gregg Shapiro is the author of seven books including the expanded edition of his short story collection How to Whistle (Rattling Good Yarns Press, 2021). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.