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Review: British musical ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ bursts with unabashed joy

A high school boy leads his uniformed classmates in a musical number in the movie "Everybody's Talking About Jamie."
Max Harwood in the movie “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.”
(John Rogers)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

Joy radiates from the screen with a glow usually only obtained through expensive bronzer in “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.” Boosted by a radiant performance from Max Harwood in his big-screen debut, this spring-loaded glitter bomb celebrates drag culture and individuality. It loses a bit of its sparkle in its final act, but this coming-of-age story will still resonate for teenage (and grownup) outsiders while offering a helpful primer in drag for anyone who doesn’t know Trixie Mattel from Trinity the Tuck.

Inspired by a true story and adapted from the West End stage show (it’s due to play the Ahmanson Theatre starting in January), this buoyant musical centers on Jamie New (Harwood), a gay teen living in Sheffield, England. The songs from Tom MacRae and Dan Gillespie Sells sound like the type of teen pop that the Spotify algorithm would feed you if you’re not old enough to have your own separate account (in a positive way), with bubbly hooks driven by Harwood’s emotional delivery. And just like Jamie, Harwood feels destined to be a star, commanding attention every time he’s on screen (which is almost every moment in the movie).

Though Jamie was out before his 16th birthday, he still hasn’t told anyone about his career aspiration: to be a drag queen. Jamie’s mum, Margaret (Sarah Lancashire), and BFF Pritti Pasha (Lauren Patel) support him unconditionally, but not everyone is so accepting. His football-loving father (Ralph Ineson), school bully Dean Paxton (Samuel Bottomley) and future-focused teacher Miss Hedge (Sharon Horgan) all want to squash Jamie, even while he is still trying to figure out his true self. With a little help from retired queen Hugo Battersby (Richard E. Grant), a.k.a. Loco Chanelle, he’ll discover who he is — and who he can be.

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In the end, (almost) everything works out a bit too neatly in ways that don’t always feel earned, but it does feel true to “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.” Fueled by hope and glitter, this film features a contagiously optimistic view of people and the world. That fuel begins to run dry in the film’s second half when the energy of both the plot and the music starts to wither (a common problem for musicals), but it goes out on a high note in its big finale.

Jonathan Butterell makes his film directing debut here after guiding the musical in the West End, and he succeeds in keeping the movie from feeling stage-bound. However, there are some odd choices in camera and focus that distract from what’s happening on screen. The editing in the musical fantasy sequences doesn’t always work, making the film occasionally feel more like a karaoke video than the big-screen production it is. In addition to the song lyrics, MacRae wrote the script, and it doesn’t shine as much in its dialogue and character development as the musical moments (another common issue for the genre).

Despite its flaws, this is a marshmallow-frosting-topped cupcake of a film, satisfying and sweet, sometimes achingly so. “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” is big-hearted, with as much desire to put something good in the world as its hero wants to express himself. While it follows in the high-heeled footsteps of “Torch Song Trilogy,” “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “Kinky Boots,” “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” shows that there are still trails that need blazing and work that needs to be done in accepting people for who they are.

‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’

Rated: PG-13, for thematic elements, strong language, and suggestive material

Running time: 2 hours

Playing: Starts Sept. 10, the Landmark, West L.A.; Alamo Drafthouse, downtown L.A.; available Sept. 17 on Amazon Prime Video


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