BFI Flare 2021

Dramarama review – nostalgic tribute to late adolescence

Jonathan Wysocki’s playful debut explores the relationships between five teens on the night before they go their separate ways

Dramarama starts as it means to go on, with shirtless Gene (Nick Pugliese) practicing his coming out speech in the mirror before clumsily falling down, interrupted by his devoutly Christian mum, beckoning him to church. It's a comically chaotic intro that perfectly encapsulates Jonathan Wysocki’s playful, semi-autobiographical feature debut, which focuses on five theatre-obsessed teens on the cusp of adulthood.

It’s 1994 and the group’s final night together before they head off to college. Gene plans to open up to his conservative friends about his sexuality at a Victorian-themed murder mystery-slumber party that his friend Rose (Anna Grace Barlow) is hosting. As the night goes on, the group reflect on their relationships as they prepare to embark on different paths.

There’s admittedly a certain conventionality to Wysocki’s film, its premise never straying too far from the established teen movie format, but the director's care and enthusiasm for its mid-nineties setting, and the self-proclaimed “drama nerds” at its heart, provide Dramarama with a specificity that distinguishes it from other entries in this well-worn genre.

From the group re-enacting a scene in Clue to erupting into Stephen Sondheim songs, pop culture references are peppered throughout, Wysocki brilliantly capturing the importance of the arts in shaping so many people’s formative years, not to mention the shared language it can create between friends.

Wysocki’s screenplay is a tad repetitive at times, with too much of the film revolving around brief conflict between different pairings, only to be followed by swift reconciliation – although they're often punctuated by heartfelt moments of warmth and tenderness that add nuance and give Dramarama an unexpected depth.

The film’s ensemble share a superb amount of chemistry, ensuring the dynamic between Gene and his friends always feels authentic, and prevents them from ever feeling like caricatures. That said, the niche manner of the characters will undoubtedly prove divisive for some, with much of the film's success riding on whether you find these theatrically-minded teens endearing or exasperating.

Wysocki appears acutely aware of the intricacies of coming out and does not pressure his characters into some kind of forced denouement that sees Gene’s situation neatly resolved. Instead, he offers an optimistic view that respects an individual’s choice to live life on their own terms and approach things at their own pace.

In spite of its flaws, the magnetism of the performances makes it difficult to resist the film’s pure and infectious charm. Affectionately crafted, Dramarama is a sweetly nostalgic ode to the poignancy of those late teenage years and the loving friendships that get you through them.

Dramarama was screened as part of the BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival 2021. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

Where to watch

More Reviews...

True Mothers review – intermittently engaging melodrama

The latest from Sweet Bean filmmaker Naomi Kawase tells the story of an unconventional adoption but feels stretched at 140 minutes

Valley of Souls review – stylish and affecting journey through divided Columbia

An extraordinary first-time performance anchors a raw and mythic story of a father searching for the bodies of his murdered sons

Promising Young Woman review – an electric exploration of grief

Carey Mulligan is devastating in Emerald Fennell’s disorienting story of love, violence, and pain that refuses to give easy answers

Songs My Brothers Taught Me review – Chloé Zhao’s deeply moving debut

Finally granted a UK release six years after its festival debut, this drama lays the groundwork for its director's future masterworks

Features

Best Films to Stream This Week in the UK

With cinemas still closed, we highlight the best new streaming releases, from Oscar nominees to a monster romance

Stream With a Theme: The Best Time Loop Films

To mark the arrival of Palm Springs on Prime Video, we highlight the cinematic time loops worth putting on repeat...

Angelina Jolie Fights Fire (and Assassins) In the Trailer For Those Who Wish Me Dead

The new film from Sicario director Taylor Sheridan centres on a fire warden who must help a young boy escape ruthless killers

Every MonsterVerse Film, Ranked

As Godzilla vs. Kong arrives on digital platforms, we cast our gaze back to this mega franchise's hits and misses to date...