Review: Film Adaptation of 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie' Preserves the Play's Wit, Warmth

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday September 15, 2021

'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'
'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'  (Source:Prime Video / Amazon)

The West End smash hit musical "Everybody's Talking About Jamie" finally gets its feature film adaptation after many pandemic and studio sale delays.

Originally a theatrical release by Fox Searchlight, when Disney bought Fox they suddenly found themselves with a musical about a teenage boy that wants to become a drag queen. Not really a Disney+ venture. They swiftly sold the film to Amazon, where it will have its premiere on September 17th. But it will debut with strong word of mouth; the sassy, infectious musical opened LA's Outfest LGBTQ+ film festival one month early.

Originally based on a short documentary about Jamie New, a boy with dreams of becoming a drag queen in the small town of Sheffield, England, the stage musical adaptation became a huge hit in London when it opened in a smaller theater before moving to the West End.

That show's director, Jonathan Butterell, makes his feature film debut here, bringing the joy of the stage show to life on screen.

Jamie New (Max Harwood) is an openly gay high school student who is comfortable with himself despite being mocked and teased by many of his classmates. His best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel) is also somewhat of an outcast for her background and religious beliefs.

When their teacher, Miss Hedge (Sharon Horgan), asks her class what they want to be after they graduate, she hears the usual grumblings of being a "famous" actor, "famous" singer or YouTuber. Jamie, on the other hand, wants to be a drag queen — but, of course, he keeps this fact to himself. The only person he tells is Pritti and, eventually, his mom.

Max has a super-supportive, loving mother (Sarah Lancashire), and her equally supportive best friend Ray (Shobna Gulati). His father Wayne (Ralph Ineson) is another story. Having left the family shortly after catching Jamie in woman's clothes, Wayne is an absentee father, which is a continuing reason for Jamie's shame about who he is. The result has Jamie dreaming of a life he so desperately wants, but terrified of trying to achieve it. This all changes when his mother buys him sparkly red high heeled shoes for his birthday.

Soon enough, Jamie is determined to live his dreams and makes his way to a store frequented by drag queens that sells gowns and accessories. There, he meets Hugo (Richard E. Grant), who has a colorful history with drag and decides to take Jamie under his wing.

But will his dreams become a reality, or will his fear of his community and his father keep his desires locked away?

Written by one of the original show's book writers, Tom MacRae, "Jamie" follows the stage production faithfully, only removing a few songs or moments but essentially keeping intact everything that is so joyful and emotional about the story.

The cast is uniformly terrific, with Harwood exhibiting incredible star power as Jamie. He brings sass and vulnerability to the role, pulling us into his joy, nervousness, and torment with ease, and allowing us to join him for the ride of becoming his true self. I wouldn't be surprised to see his name pop up in various circles come year-end nomination time.

Patel is absolutely delightful as Jamie's supportive bestie, and she also gets to croon two of the best ballads in the show. Grant is also wonderful as the former drag queen who plays mama bear to Jamie and passes him the torch.

But it is Sarah Lancashire, as Jamie's mom, who also proves she might have awards-season potential. As Jamie's adoring mother, she faces the duality of wanting her son to be happy and himself, but fearing what could happen to him. Her emotional ballad "He's My Boy" gets the tear ducts flowing, while showing off her powerful pipes.

The smaller budget of this production does constrict some scenes that could have been more elaborate, but this doesn't affect the storytelling, the dazzle, or the emotional punch of the story. The characters, the music, and the performances are all so good it's hard to imagine anyone not loving this film. It's warm and witty, and the songs will have you sashaying your way out of the theater (or your living room) as the credits roll.

"Everybody's Talking About Jamie" premieres on Amazon Prime on September 17th.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.