Before we get going, there are some credits assuring us that everything we are about to see really happened (and then we added singing and dancing). We’ll get to the singing and dancing later, but I’ve been to a few too many “based on a true story except for the bits that we changed because the original story was a bit boring” films, and my heart dropped. Turns out, I didn’t have to worry.
It’s Jamie’s 16th birthday, though in many senses the day is the same as any other. He takes the bin out on his way to his paper round, then goes into school where his careers teacher does her best to rid the class of any ambition or hope. He suffers occasional verbal bullying, but he’s out and proud so its nothing he can’t deal with.
Jamie’s best friend Pritti wears a headscarf and large glasses, and the social outcasts instinctively flock together. Jamie is eager to show Pritti the birthday present that his mother worked extra shifts to pay for – some Dorothy type red shoes. Now all he needs to do is find a matching dress, so that he can wear them to the end of term ball (do they have end of term balls in England? In Sheffield? How times have changed).
Have you noticed that people in films are now allowed to use Google, rather than a search engine that sounds remotely like an existing one, just with an interface that looks slightly wrong? Anyway, that’s how Jamie comes across a clothes shop for drag run by Richard E Grant as Hugo, or the artist formerly known as Loco Chanelle.
Pause for a piece of manipulative nostalgia, which is also the most moving part of the film. Hugo digs out a video recorder (remember them?) and shows footage from the late 1980s and early 1990s when gay men – including Hugo’s partner – were dying, but they were also fighting. The message to the younger generation is that drag is not just about mindless entertainment, it’s also about fighting heteronormative oppression. Got it? Now we can back to preparing for the ball.
Speaking about the generation difference, Hugo teaching Jamie how to be a drag queen gives room for a perfectly timed joke. “You need a stunning name”, he says. “Who remembers Archibald Leach?” Who’s that?, asks Jamie. “Cary Grant”, says Hugo, decisively. Who’s that?, asks Jamie, nonplussed. Well, maybe you had to be there,
If you want to dislike Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, there are plenty of reasons. The plot is superficial and doesn’t contain any real surprizes. The whole thing has a feel of a Young Adult novel which raises Serious Issues but doesn’t look too deeply into the human condition for fear of losing its audience. And I rarely got on board with the singing and dancing, but maybe this is more to do with me – it is all based on a sell out musical, after all, and what do I know?
Despite all this, there was something about the film that kept your interest and had you investing in the characters. Of course it was clear who was supposed to be good and who was bad (very little middle ground was allowed), yet each of the characters was afforded a little back story, so you cared a little bit about why they are like they are.
Jamie’s dad, for instance – a selfish, homophobic git who has disowned his son because all he wanted was someone he could take to the match. Or the school bully, who has been let down by school and is headed for a dead end job. And while Jamie is obviously support to be someone we can identify with, he behaves like a self-obsessed preening poseur for large chunks of the film.
And then there is Sarah Lancashire as Jamie’s mum. Those of us of a certain age can’t see Lancashire without fondly remembering the loveable bimbo Raquel Wolstenhulme. And yet it’s been over 25 years since Lancashire left Corrie (I had to look that up and now feel very old). In the intervening time, she’s made a living downtrodden mothers and ex-wives who uncomplainingly deal with problems caused by other people. You can guess what Jamie’s mum is like.
Added to this, I gained way more pleasure than is strictly speaking justified listening to people speaking with proper Yorkshire accents. Who cares that the Sheffield we were shown was more moors than steel mills, more semis than terraces? This was a depiction of people who were clearly poor in the way that is missing from your average received pronunciation melodrama. These were people to care for.
It’s not that I’m unaware of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’s deficits – its implausibility, its sentimental ending, its general lack of homophobia or racism, except when it is spotlighting that someone is supposed to be bad. Yes it has all these things, but it also tells an important story with compassion and feeling. Often this is not enough, but somehow this time it was.