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.

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