Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a shallow, Instagram-friendly vision of queerness

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On the face of it, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a coming-of-age musical about acceptance, sexuality, and self-expression. But then, it also seems like a cautionary tale about what happens when you let theatre kids run amok.

Confetti-coloured, relentlessly saccharine, and overreliant on the audience having its heart in the right place, this is a film that might have been sweetly corny in the right hands. Instead, it’s mostly annoying.

An adaptation of the 2017 West End musical, it is directed by Jonathan Butterell, a stage director making his first feature film. The consequences are clear: this feels like a stage musical, hidebound and awkwardly choreographed for the screen, even with a cinematic boost from Richard E Grant and Sharon Horgan.

The play is based on a real-life incident at a secondary school prom in Sheffield, to which 16-year-old Jamie Campbell was refused entry because he was wearing a dress. In the movie, Jamie (likeable Max Harwood) dreams of breaking out of the banalities of his working-class life in Sheffield and becoming a drag queen.

His mother (Sarah Lancashire) is supportive but he has few pals at school and his estranged father (Ralph Ineson) seems to find it impossible to hide his macho disappointment in his son. Jamie’s life takes a turn when he meets aged drag queen Loco Chanelle (Richard E Grant), and begins to try to express his true self.

The screenplay is all over the place (Photo: John Rogers)

Bright visuals of Jamie’s florid fantasies, all feather eyelashes and glittery heels, are intended to delineate between his inner life and his workaday existence. But this glossy imagery seems to see queerness only through the prism of reality TV and Instagram, with barely a memorable song or dance number.

The film wears its themes so obviously on its sleeve, it’s like trying to explain being gay to someone’s out-of-touch auntie with a Facebook post on equality.

The screenplay, too, is all over the place, with a relentlessly shallow view of each of its stock characters (the supportive mum, the homophobic bully et al), who do convenient 180-degree turns at a moment’s notice.

The dialogue is littered with Northern colloquialisms and terms of endearment; at worst, the film leans far into cartoonish archetypes that make easy straw men for the film’s protagonist to battle against.

The original play was heralded for its inclusive and joyful message of acceptance for LGBTQ+ youth, and you have to take your hat off to the movie’s devotion to that very thing.

Perhaps for younger audiences, its themes of alienation and homophobia will set it apart. But the rose-tinted lenses and enforced cheer of its conclusion is like a Primark-value coda to a film that, for all its good intentions, feels irritatingly false.

Available on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 17 September

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