Everybody's Talking About Jamie
2021, PG-13, 115 min. Directed by Jonathan Butterell. Starring Max Harwood, Lauren Patel, Richard E. Grant, Sharon Horgan, Sarah Lancashire, Shobna Gulati.
REVIEWED By James Scott, Fri., Sept. 10, 2021
Film reviews, they’re supposed to tell the truth of one’s experience – so I want to be honest with y’all. I didn’t enjoy the new Amazon original film Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. The reason I’m being upfront, being real about that, is because what I disliked about the film was how little it regarded the truth as worth preserving. Instead, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie opts for frosting and songs, flashbacks and sensation, rather than honesty about the real person whose experience the film takes its story from.
Of course, because the film – formerly a West End musical – is based on the real story of Jamie Campbell chronicled in BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, parts of real life and fiction align. Jamie New (Harwood) lives in Sheffield, where he and his mother get along with part-time jobs while he dreams of someday becoming a career drag queen. The real Jamie grew up in Bishop Auckland, similarly living with his mother and adoring of the glamour in dresses, in makeup, in the power of drag. Both wanted to wear a dress to their proms; both got turned away at the door only to be allowed in thanks to the support of classmates; and both have a mother whose support is immense.
But the reality of Campbell’s struggles with the rampant homophobia of the city he lived in is represented with almost no nuance in this musical rendition of the truth. In the film, Jamie New’s struggles are against individuals – a homophobic classmate given a late-in-the-game redemption despite no real attrition; an absent and cruel father who exists as a series of grunts; a teacher whose only personality trait is “bitter.” Little attention is paid to the fact that these oppressions come from power structures, even within the town they live in, which cannot be taken down by simple “you’re beautiful” rhetoric. There is lip service to the AIDS crisis in the form of mentor character Hugo Battersby (Grant, whose appearance made me wish I were watching him in Can You Ever Forgive Me? instead) singing about how things “used to be.” But therein lies the rub: None of those struggles have truly passed. Even in the budget-laden slickness of this Amazon production, I can’t lose myself in a fantasy that these issues can be solved by a mere costume change, a pep talk, or a snappy comeback.
Here I’ll mention that, despite my issues with the film, it is a very good-looking production. The acting is more stagey, as often big-screen forms of theatre works are, but the cast presents everything with good emotion. There is a tonal dissonance between the more realistic setting and the bombastic musical numbers, never cohering in a way that makes them sing on key. Often I thought of other queer-focused musical films like Velvet Goldmine or fellow it-really-happened flick Rocketman, where the dreamlike song sequences were ensconced by filmic language speaking magical realism. Here, in Jamie, the songs stop and start as though they are on an entirely separate plane from the rest of the film – here is reality, here is the song, and never the two shall intertwine.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie begins with a card that says everything in the film “really happened” but then they added singing and dancing. If nothing else, that sentiment describes the film entirely – all frosting, no cake. Check it out if you like sugar, but I’m frankly a bit sick of it.