Everybody's Talking About Jamie is an exuberant, colorful drag musical

click to enlarge Jamie New brings drag to his working-class town.
Jamie New brings drag to his working-class town.

Everybody in the working-class English city of Sheffield is talking about Jamie New (Max Harwood) because Jamie represents something, well, new for Sheffield, although perhaps not for bigger, more sophisticated metropolitan areas. Jamie is a teenage drag queen, and Everybody's Talking About Jamie is a heartwarming, sometimes corny musical about his surprisingly smooth road to acceptance in his seemingly old-fashioned, close-minded community. Although it's inspired by a true story (as depicted in the 2011 BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16), pretty much everything about Jamie's journey is predictable and obvious. But the emotions behind it are genuine, the characters are endearing, and the songs are just catchy enough that viewers may be absent-mindedly humming them the next day.

The film version, arriving Friday on Amazon Prime, was created by the same team that made Everybody's Talking About Jamie into a West End stage hit: director Jonathan Butterell, writer and lyricist Tom MacRae, and composer Dan Gillespie Sells. But this isn't just a rote translation of a stage production. Butterell opens up the action, both in the range of locations and in the visual style, and one of the most affecting scenes showcases a new song written specifically for the movie. Butterell preserves the spirit of the stage production without being limited by it.

That spirit is familiar from a long line of movies about unconventional artistic projects shaking up hard-scrabble British communities, from The Full Monty to Billy Elliot to Kinky Boots (all of which, not coincidentally, have been adapted into stage musicals). Like Billy Elliot himself, Jamie is a dreamer with aspirations that most people in his community don't understand, especially his gruff, macho dad (Ralph Ineson), who considers Jamie a failure as a son. Even Jamie's best friend, Pritti (Lauren Patel), a fellow misfit as the only Muslim in their high school, isn't quite on board with his goals at first.

But Pritti takes barely half a scene to come around, and Jamie's patient mother, Margaret (Sarah Lancashire), is consistently supportive. The town on the whole is more progressive than a similar town might be in a movie from even 10 years ago, and while certain school administrators don't approve of Jamie's plan to attend the prom in drag, they are quick to clarify that they support all students' individual identities. Those changing attitudes are heartening, but the result is that the main opponent of Jamie's efforts, teacher Miss Hedge (Sharon Horgan), isn't much of an antagonist. She puts up only the most perfunctory objections, and the stakes never seem particularly high.

Instead, the conflict is more internal and emotional, as Jamie deals with his father's disapproval (which Margaret has partially hidden from him) and discovers his own unique drag identity. His mentor on that path is a retired drag queen once known as Loco Chanelle (Richard E. Grant), who runs a costume shop. Hugo (as he's now known) gets a showcase in the newly written song "This Was Me," which serves as a sort of LGBTQ history lesson, flashing back to the height of the AIDS epidemic and gay rights protests. It's a heavy interlude in a mostly bubbly, lighthearted movie, but it provides a perfect counterbalance to Jamie's sometimes self-centered endeavors.

Jamie's occasional selfishness is the closest the movie gets to serious tension, but his quarrels with Margaret and Pritti are brief and easily resolved. This isn't a movie to watch for complex drama or incisive social commentary. It's a celebration of openness and individuality, wrapped up in colorful, exuberant pop-musical numbers. It's not something that everybody will be talking about for long, but it says enough in the moment. ♦

Rated PG-13
Directed by Jonathan Butterell
Starring Max Harwood, Sarah Lancashire, Lauren Patel
Streaming on Amazon Prime