Sunday nibble #82: Talk of the town

Sandwiches

I really knew nothing about Everyone’s Talking about Jamie before I saw a trailer on Instagram, but I was intrigued immediately. It promised the story of a high school student in England who was already openly gay, but was about to go through a second coming out, revealing his desire to be a drag queen.

Take a look at that trailer here:

The comments on the post were mostly positive with, of course, the obligatory homophobic and transphobic jabs tossed in — although maybe someday people will realize that drag queens/kings and transwomen and transmen are not the same thing.

Anyway, the trailer got me really excited about seeing the film, which I did over last weekend, and I was not disappointed. Based on a musical that premiered in Sheffield, Yorkshire, the setting of the story, eventually transferring to London’s West End (aka British Broadway), it tells the true story of Jamie Campbell — who played himself when the show premiered — a kid from a working class neighborhood in Sheffield who had dreams of being a drag queen.

It was an instant hit in Sheffield, and a production company approached the producers about turning it into a film after representatives had come to the tenth performance. Like most projects from 2020, the film’s release was delayed due to COVID, finally receiving a limited theatrical release in September 2021 before debuting on Amazon Prime.

The stage version will be appearing in Los Angeles as part of Center Theatre Group’s 2021-22 season, premiering in January 2022.

As for the film version — it won me over from the opening moments, largely due to the sheer charisma and likeability of newcomer Max Harwood, who embodies Jamie with an enthusiastic and positive energy, whether he’s setting off on his early morning paper-route in the rain, greeting his mom as he comes home while she’s heading off to work, or appreciating the little messages she’s left for him.

Oh, right. One important detail is that today is Jamie’s 16th birthday, and everyone seems to know that — his mom, obviously, and his bestie Pritti Pasha (Lauren Patel), the half-Muslim, half-Hindi girl who lives in her own world of not fitting in.

After Jamie’s mom gives him a very special birthday gift that lets us know she is 100% accepting of her son no matter who he is, Jamie comes out to Pritti to reveal his deepest desire — to be a drag queen.

Throughout, the film is full of amazing and colorful musical numbers that spring out of nowhere but not without motivation — largely a lot of Jamie’s fantasies, but not always, especially after he meets his mentor, retired drag queen Loco Chanelle, aka Hugo Battersby (Richard E. Grant), who becomes Jamie’s mentor after the boy wanders into Hugo’s costume/clothing shop.

Of course, Jamie’s journey could not be without setbacks and adversaries, the biggest one being a single moment in his childhood when his father Wayne (Ralph Ineson; now his mother’s ex) caught him playing dress-up and called him “disgusting,” a wound that has yet to heel, but he also has to contend with Miss Hedge (Sharon Horgan), the Year 11 practical teacher — i.e. the one who is supposed to talk them out of dreams of being social media influencers and into dead-end jobs in Sheffield, and Dean Paxton (Samuel Bottomley), the somewhat homophobic school bully who is considered a cool kid by some.

I do find the casting of an actor named “Bottomley” as the homophobic bully to be hilarious, by the way — but he, like everyone else on screen, is just amazing in their role.

As is typical of British actors, everyone commits and everyone nails it, and every single performer absolutely embodies their roles from start to finish, which is what makes the film so damn engaging.

The real standouts are Harwood, whose vulnerability turned fierceness makes us root for him from the first instant; the amazing Sarah Lancashire as his mother, Margaret, who will do anything for her boy, including lying about his father Wayne showing up for the party but having to leave; Richard E. Grant, who’s practically a British institution by now, but comes on with all of the gravitas and camp necessary to make his role a show-stopper; Horgan’s Miss Hedge, who toes that always fine line of making us hate her character without playing into the stereotype, so we understand her even as we want to throw rotten tomatoes; and Bottomley, who torments Jamie throughout and yet finally reaches a détente with him.

The big pre-prom scene between the two of them in particular skates a really fine line and, like most of the movie, avoids the stereotyped and obvious conclusion.

Reportedly, the film version cut seven songs from the stage version — not a surprise — so I can’t give a full report on the music, other than to say that it does suffer from one of the great drawbacks of a lot of early 2000s musicals written by people not named Lin-Manuel: the music gets poppy and repetitious, with no really strong themes or melodies, so that nothing stands out.

It is fun while it’s happening, but you won’t be humming it on the way to your car unlike a show like, e.g. Chicago or Evita.

On the other hand, you will be enjoying it while you’re watching it. Bonus points: If you grew LGBTQ+, there are several points during the film where you will just bawl your eyes out, guaranteed.

Bonus points: During the later credits, we get to see the real Jamie and his mother Margaret, and it is absolutely striking how closely Max Harwood resembles Jamie Campbell while Lancashire and Mom… not so much. It’s not just the physical resemblance in casting. It’s quite clear that Max just absorbed and embodied Jamie 100% — which makes me think that this kid is going places.

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