English schoolkids go to prom? Color us surprised that American-style prom culture has boomed in popularity across Britain. A 2012 Guardian article on the phenomenon, “How British Children Have Embraced the High School Prom,” pinned some of the blame for the cultural exchange on the overseas success of Glee and High School Musical, noting that in 2011, Holiday Inn had seen a 5000% increase in prom bookings in the U.K.
That same year, Jenny Popplewell’s documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 introduced the public to Jamie Campbell, a gay student in Sheffield, England, who was determined to attend his prom in drag.
It wasn’t long before Jamie and his mother’s inspiring story, and the not-insignificant popularity of all things high school prom, begat the 2017 hit London stage musical, and now film adaptation, Everybody’s Talking about Jamie (★★☆☆☆), with music by Dan Gillespie Sells, and book and lyrics by Tom MacRae.
But the reverse colonial crossover of proms seems far more fascinating than what goes down in this pleasant, predictable paean to the birth of a baby drag queen.
Director Jonathan Butterell, who helmed the original stage production, opens up the world of the show into a bright, colorful onscreen view of Sheffield.
No cinematic embellishments have been made, however, to alter the course of MacRae’s simplistic plot, an endless series of pep talks for gay 16-year old Jamie New (Max Harwood), who not only vows to attend his prom in drag, but longs for fame and fortune as a superstar drag performer. A bleached blond unicorn in a “Stay Magical” t-shirt, Jamie is already bursting with pride. It would take confidence and courage for him to be himself anywhere, let alone in high school.
Harwood, who sings the part admirably, embodies that confidence effortlessly. His persuasive performance betrays the contrivances of a first act that follows Jamie slowly building up nerve that’s already apparent.
Before he can shine his light onstage, though, Jamie needs moral support to overcome school bullies and self-doubt. He sings his own praises with “And You Don’t Even Know It.” His bestie Pritti (Lauren Patel) further tries to open his eyes to his fabulousness with “Spotlight.”
Local dress shop owner Hugo (Richard E. Grant), sometimes known as drag queen Miss Loco Chanelle, takes Jamie and his drag dreams on as a mentoring project without even being asked. And doting mom Margaret (Sarah Lancashire) gladly buys Jamie his first pair of sparkly red platform pumps.
Everybody here is either for Jamie, or, in the case of his deadbeat dad Wayne (Ralph Ineson), against him, and absolutely no one onscreen is concerned with anything else. No secondary romances or tertiary developments break in to deepen the characters or sharpen the lens through which we might consider overall themes.
Everybody’s talking only about Jamie might be a more accurate heading. Pritti spends nearly all her time in encouragement mode, skating close to insufferable, shouting “Jamie, you’re unstoppable!” before singing him a second pep song. Patel shows in the climactic prom scene that she could have done much more with the character, had there been more of a character to play.
Lancashire and Grant are both fine, while Sharon Horgan, as Jamie’s antagonistic teacher Miss Hedge, laces her delivery with just the right amount of venom. She also gets to perform the New Wave club bop “Work of Art,” an outlier of authentic dance-funk among the blandness of Sells and MacRae’s empowerment anthems.
Unfortunately, stiff direction and choreography do little to liven up the rest of the musical score — but Guy Speranza’s lively costumes should provide inspiration for drag queens and prom-goers for seasons to come.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is available for streaming on Prime Video. Visit www.amazon.com.
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