The film opens on Jamie’s 16th birthday, when his proud and loving mum Margaret (Sarah Lancashire, beloved by “Last Tango in Halifax” fans everywhere) presents him with his dream-gift: a pair of sparkling red stiletto pumps, suitable for any pole dancer who feels compelled to channel her inner Dorothy Gale. Jamie is thrilled, and decides to use the new kicks as a springboard for launching the life he’s been hiding from his friends and schoolmates. He’ll finally come out as a drag queen and wear a dress to the big school dance.
Adapted from the hit West End musical — which itself was adapted from the documentary “Jamie: Drag Queen at 16,” “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” benefits from a winning performance by Harwood, whose dimples and wide-eyed good looks give the character a contagious sense of indefatigable optimism and confidence. Indefatigable to the point of grating: Jamie is such a winsome paragon that viewers may start feeling less beguiled than railroaded by the umpteenth musical number celebrating his you-go-boy self-belief.
That changes when Jamie meets Hugo Battersby, a shop owner played by Richard E. Grant, who introduces his new young friend to the history of drag in the movie’s deepest, most shattering set piece: a flashback set to the song “This Was Me,” during which he reminds Jamie of the gay rights activists, AIDS patients and everyday courageous souls on whose shoulders the new generation stands. (The passage also happens to pay moving, meaningful homage to Princess Diana.) In that instant, what was previously a matter of self-involved fabulosity for Jamie morphs into what he realizes is something with a lineage and profound political meaning: in his words, “a revolution.”
That sequence, imaginatively filmed by director Jonathan Butterell, is the high point of ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” which, despite its Beadazzled aesthetic and stylized, music-video-inspired choreography, becomes rote and monotonous, its draggy narrative sequences slowing down the pacing and the musical numbers blending together in a sprightly pop-tastic blur. The villains — a homophobic student named Dean (Samuel Bottomley) and an uptight teacher played by Sharon Horgan — are too broadly drawn to be believed, which is just as true of their inevitable third-act conversions.
Still, it’s impossible not to be cheered by Jamie’s indomitability in “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” just as is it impossible not to be moved by the film’s closing credits sequence, where the audience gets to meet the real character and his mother. In the tradition of such bracing musicals as “Kinky Boots,” “Billy Elliot” and “Prom,” “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” has exuberance to burn, high spirits galore and a brand of message-driven escapism that’s as insistent as it is worthy. Resistance, in other words, is futile.
PG-13. At the AFI Silver; available Sept. 17 on Amazon. Contains mature thematic elements, strong language and suggestive material. 120 minutes.