The first change I noticed from the stage musical based on my cast album listening was the change of the western-style drag number “The Legend of Loco Chanel” into “This Was Me,” and as fun as the former song is, I think it’s an improvement. Instead of recounting the fictional history of his drag persona, the VHS-styled sequence involves Hugo sharing with Jamie the context for drag as a form of protest and fierceness in the face of discrimination and death, particularly the AIDS crisis. The inter-generational preservation of queer history and the acknowledgment of its role in drag performance is beautiful.
Something I noticed and liked about the film that made me wish for more British movie musicals: the contrast between the drab, gray Northern English landscape/sky and Jamie’s fantasy drag musical sequences. Those sequences of course are what makes this story particularly adept to film. (“Work of Art” may have been my favorite.)
Let’s just say, despite some cursory similarities in plot (well, the fact it’s all building to a sort of “coming out” at a prom), it’s way more effective than The Prom. (The film version of that just enhanced what was already an issue in the original stage musical: a lack of clarity of setting, oversimplification, and trying to toggle between two different tones and audiences.)
Jamie is also based on a true story–and we see clips of the real Jamie and his mum during the final credits. I don’t know how much was fictionalized in the process, but I also don’t care enough to look it up. I don’t care about “would this really happen?” because it did to some extent, and we still see rifts in culture around the “appropriateness” of drag queens–arguably the movie compromises on that with how Jamie presents in the final scenes. And while Jamie isn’t trans, the gender presentation-based biases affect trans kids, too–and increasingly more visibly.
And honestly? There is just this gut reaction I have from being a person on the Internet often interacting with critics and the queer community is how critical those spaces might be of this movie, which I believe is “Rotten Tomatoes fresh,” at least before release, so I shouldn’t worry…but I just want to say that Jamie’s story doesn’t need any more pain that it has, and that it’s frankly necessary and important to have a happy ending. Contrarian takes thrive on “engagement” on the Internet, and that kind of culture is what I very much do NOT want to do with this project. I used “feel good” in my heading, and that’s certainly what it felt like at the end–nice, neat, feel good. But I am not minimizing the moments of pain within the story, particularly surrounding Jamie’s father, who I think is dealt with in a complex way. As I mentioned earlier, I may have consciously muted my emotions because I was afraid of reaching the hypomanic state of joy I had been in when I first discovered the show.
At the end of the day, I want more opportunities to just ENJOY something without having to make some sort of statement because of how “important” that is. Queer stories deserve that luxury. And especially queer stories that are family-friendly (well, PG-13), widely available (fine, thanks, Amazon), push representation into areas we haven’t seen (not focused on coming out or a love story; Pritt’s hijab), and ultimately hopeful with a happy ending.
Yeah, the music still makes me smile and dance around like an idiot.