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The Power of the Feel-Good: The Human Connection Project #4

The Human Connection Project
The Power of the Feel-Good: The Human Connection Project #4
By Olivia Anne Gennaro • Issue #4 • View online
well it’s been a long week, but fortunately my most anticipated movie musical of the year arrived on Friday and did not disappoint!

You know when you just really enjoy something and it feels special and precious and you don’t want to think too much more about it? That’s me this weekend with Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the movie adaptation of the hit West End musical that was finally released (on Amazon Prime in the U.S., at least).
I've got the moves to make you smile
Last week, I ended up writing more than I expected and on quite serious topics with Come From Away, defending it as something that acknowledged the painful and uncomfortable parts of its history that its “heartwarming” reputation might suggest. This week, after watching Jamie, I want to do almost the opposite: this movie/musical makes me happy, and it doesn’t need any pain at all (though there is some of that) to be worthy of your attention. (And, okay, my brain and body are quite exhausted; I worked a lot and my back and neck pain flared up again, and I haven’t been able to take as much time as I should to relax. But that’s just part of being human, right?)
I’d heard about Jamie before and saw the first trailer back when it was came out like a year ago…when there was a planned theatrical release for the film in early 2021. This movie (in the U.S., at least) has gotten the short straw between COVID and Disney’s acquisition of Fox. Whatever, I’m over it.
But it was not until May of this year when I remembered that trailer and started listening to the cast album. As I mentioned in my music post, there was this period where I listened to upbeat music when I was definitely hypomanic and had a positive outlook, however heightened by my own brain chemicals. I’ve honestly skipped over those songs recently, because it takes me back to a time where I realize now I was not okay, when I had hopes that could not actually be realized. Perhaps that is also why I don’t want to throw myself into a major analysis of the film version here.
Regardless, the opening number, “And You Don’t Even Know It,” remains a serotonin-filled burst of queer joy and even now in my more muted, stabilized state I insist that everyone watch it (despite some audio issues):
West End LIVE 2019: Everybody's Talking About Jamie performance
West End LIVE 2019: Everybody's Talking About Jamie performance
The first thing about Jamie that makes me happy is the ensemble cast, who just feel familiar to me because the diversity on display reminds me of my high school. When I first saw the trailer, I realized that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a major Muslim character wearing hijab–especially in a teen movie where her identity is not the focus–like Jamie’s best friend, Pritti (yes, a Hindu name–one reason she says she’s a bit of a misfit). And Pretti is THE BEST, a true supportive friend with her own complementary character arc. I love her. I want to give her a hug.
Another thing Jamie has that’s unfortunately rare? A PG-13 movie (or teen TV show) about a gay kid where the focus isn’t on him coming out (well, not in his sexuality, just that he wants to be a drag queen) and/or THERE IS NO LOVE INTEREST. Seriously, queer people have way more stories to tell. Also, people can realize their sexualities without having a crush or relationship with someone. Some reviewers apparently think that means he’s “chaste”…I just think his actual desires aren’t relevant at all to a story about how he wants to do drag. (Why are adults so interested in how sexual the teen characters are in gay movies, without accounting for how a PG-13 rating is important for actual teens to be able to watch them? Also sexuality is a spectrum!) Add in his positive relationships with Pritti and his mum, and you’ve got even more rarities in the queer teen story we often (unfortunately) expect in society.
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.
Recommended Reading/Listening/Watching
I’ve been getting into music analysis lately (maaaybe due to something I want to write) and my two favorite resources so far are the podcast Switched on Pop (apparently they have a book too?! on my Christmas list now) and the Netflix series This Is Pop. (Despite their titles, they are not entirely about the “pop” genre as you may conceptualize it.)
Inside ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’s’ moving tribute to the AIDS generation
What's making me smile
I flew through the newly released third season of Sex Education on Netflix. As provocative and explicit as it can be, it’s actually a rather sweet show, and this season has only served to double down on how all relationships need good communication. Old characters get more complex shading, and new ones (especially non-binary Cal) sparkle.
Sneak peak
Connect and support
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Olivia Anne Gennaro

Updates from writer Olivia Anne Gennaro. Exploring how the cultural tissue of storytelling in various mediums brings us together.

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