United Kingdom

BRIAN VINER reviews Everybody's Talking About Jamie 

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (12A, 115 mins)

Rating:

Verdict: Energetic but flimsy

Gunpowder Milkshake (15, 114 mins)

Rating:

Verdict: Borderline offensive

A BBC documentary ten years ago, with the arresting title Jamie: Drag Queen At 16, inspired an effervescent West End musical which in turn has now inspired a film. 

If you haven’t seen the stage show, you might enjoy it. But if you have, as I have (and loved it), I think you’ll find the film a frustrating experience.

Of course, it could be that folk once said the same about West Side Story and The Sound Of Music, other theatrical hits that wound up in cinemas and became enduring classics.

But Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is an Amazon Prime Video release, and from where I was sitting in my living room — Row A, Seat 1 — most of the qualities that make it work so joyously on stage undermine it on the small screen.

Still, first things first. The story is unusual, but uncomplicated. Jamie (newcomer Max Harwood) is 16, living in Sheffield with his adoring single mum (Sarah Lancashire), but craving the approval of his estranged dad (Ralph Ineson).

If you haven’t seen the stage show, you might enjoy it. But if you have, as I have (and loved it), I think you’ll find the film a frustrating experience

At his comprehensive school, everyone knows he’s gay. In any case, there isn’t a closet big enough to hide him. Jamie is flamboyantly camp, and secretly yearns to be a drag queen.

He gets support from his mum, his best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel), and a retired drag artist once known as Loco Chanelle (Richard E. Grant, with licence to ham).

The story’s antagonists are his dad, the school bully (Samuel Bottomley) and an uptight teacher (Sharon Horgan). Will Jamie win round the naysayers? Will he, by expressing his true self, come of age? And will he and everyone else break into song at every opportunity? I think you know the answers.

On stage, all this overflows with exuberance. That the characterisation is thin at best, the drama overblown, the trajectory predictable, somehow just adds to the fun.

Director Jonathan Butterell and writer Tom MacRae, both of whom crafted the stage show, do their best to reproduce its irresistible zest. But from the start the film, for all its pounding energy, feels artificial, flimsy, a pale shadow both of the show and of a picture with a broadly similar narrative but a much more resounding punch, Billy Elliot — which as it happens generated the opposite effect, working better on screen than on stage.

n BY THE way, Ralph Ineson — whose lot it is always to be tagged as big Finchy from The Office, no matter what else he does — also pops up in Gunpowder Milkshake, as a brutal gangster. But this Netflix film is all about its female characters, not the chaps. It is a feminisation of those bullet-spraying, corpse-strewn all-action flicks best exemplified by the John Wick series, which is fine in theory, but director and co-writer Navot Papushado works so hard to make it look stylised and chic that it ends up looking cartoonish and silly.

A decent cast, well and truly wasted, is led by Karen Gillan as Samantha, an assassin whose mother (Lena Headey), also a cold-blooded killer, disappeared 15 years earlier. Sam now works for a sinister organisation called, almost inevitably in a film like this, The Firm. Paul Giamatti is their liaison man, who briefs her to catch a guy who has unwisely stolen The Firm’s money.

This leads her to an armoury disguised as a library, where weapons are cutely given the names of female authors (Sam is tooled up with a Jane Austen, a Charlotte Bronte, a Virginia Woolf and an Agatha Christie), and dispensed by shadowy characters played by Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino and Michelle Yeoh.

It’s all precisely as daft as it sounds, and the desperately self-aware directorial flourishes, culminating in a slow-mo massacre in a 1950s diner, give it a comic-book vibe that feels not just hollow but also borderline offensive. As for the determinedly quirky title . . . sorry, I just can’t be bothered.

Starling that fails to soar

The Starling (no cert, 102 mins)

Rating:

Verdict: Featherweight nonsense

12 Mighty Orphans (12, 118 mins)

Rating:

Verdict: Not quite a touchdown

About 15 minutes into The Starling, though I can’t promise it won’t be sooner, you start to wonder why anyone bothered to make it?

The cast includes Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Kevin Kline and Timothy Olyphant — all engaging performers, given the right material.

But The Starling is not moving or funny or thought-provoking, unless it provokes the thought that you’d rather be doing something else.

McCarthy (below), in one of her super-serious roles, though leavened with occasional reminders of her comic timing, plays Lilly, whose world has fallen apart with the sudden death a year earlier of her infant daughter. To make matters worse, the tragedy propelled her Irish husband Jack (O’Dowd) into a psychiatric hospital. Oh and, worse still, she’s being terrorised by a starling in the yard of her lovely farmhouse.

A terrible script (by Matt Harris), a ghastly score (by Benjamin Wallfisch), and horribly treacly direction (by Theodore Melfi, whose last feature, 2016’s admirable Hidden Figures, hardly prepared us for this maudlin tripe) all contrive to show us how Lilly overcomes this triple-whammy.

About 15 minutes into The Starling, though I can’t promise it won’t be sooner, you start to wonder why anyone bothered to make it?

Suffice to say it owes something to a friendly local vet (Kline) who, with magnificent improbability, is also a trained psychotherapist. The Starling opens in some cinemas today, but you’ll get another chance to avoid it when it arrives on Netflix next week.

There's a further dollop of sentimentality in 12 Mighty Orphans, also on digital platforms, which tells the true story of how in the 1930s, a Texas orphanage produced a championship-winning gridiron team, distracting America from the misery of the Great Depression.

Luke Wilson plays the team’s doughty coach, with Martin Sheen as his right-hand man and a fleeting cameo for Robert Duvall, so there’s no shortage of talent off the football field, as well as on it.

But the film never rises above the quality of one of those cornily saccharine made-for-TV Disney features that used to be confined to Sunday teatimes.

Don't look back in anger

Oasis: Knebworth 1996 (15, 110 mins) 

Rating:

Verdict: Rock-doc nostalgia

Back in 1996, for those of a certain age, the world seemed full of possibilities.

At any rate that’s the message of this documentary, which records how 250,000 Oasis fans converged on Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, 25 years ago last month, for the two biggest rock concerts Britain had ever seen.

It was the year of Euro ’96, Trainspotting and Dolly the Sheep, and Britpop was at its zenith. Po-faced newsreaders declared that ‘Oasis are playing Knebworth tomorrow in what is being called the gig of the decade’. And it was, whether you like the Gallagher brothers or not.

Jake Scott’s film is a stirring chronicle of the event, with pertinent contributions from both Liam and Noel (‘five lads from two different council estates in Manchester, more than the sum of our parts’), but spun out with far too many recollections from random fans, all of them finding different ways to say just how, you know, fantabulously great it all was. ‘It was literally Willy Wonka and the golden ticket,’ says one. Well, no, it literally wasn’t.

Still, I enjoyed an archived interview with Lord Cobbold, Knebworth’s owner, who clearly didn’t know his Oasis from his Elbow. ‘I’m sure they’ll be a terrific success,’ he said, poshly, and he wasn’t wrong.

In cinemas from next Thursday.

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