Coming of age and coming out is the name of the game in Dramarama, a 1990s set dramedy about a group of friends last hurrah before college
Gene, (Nick Pugliese) Oscar, (Nico Greetham) Rose, (Anna Grace Barlow) Claire, (Megan Suri) and Ally (Danielle Kay) are five theatre loving friends who are celebrating one last night together in the summer after highschool before they all leave for different colleges in the morning. Gene has been struggling with the notion of coming out to his conservative and deeply religious friends and as the night goes on a whole host of secrets and long held grudges start to come out. Set in 1990s California, Dramarama is a love letter to his own nerdy youth from writer and director Jonathan Wysocki.
The gang are the insufferable, overachieving theatre nerds you’ll have come to recognise from American teen movies and tv shows, we meet them as they begin a Victorian themed murder mystery party where they continually speak in references, put on accents and act out bits. They fall into familiar roles and most have grand plans for the future – Oscar is going to Hollywood to become a movie star, Rose to NYU and to of course win a Tony, Ally is an opera singer and slightly too cool for this crowd, Claire the quiet, sheltered one who’s just greatful to have friends whilst Gene seems to be living a secretive life of his own and is being left behind to go to community college.
When high school dropout JD (Zak Henri) shows up and throws a spanner in the works of their evening, the gang start to question what made them friends in the first place as their imminent life changes loom over them. In the predictable EXTRANESS of theatre people though, they use their little acts and scenes to put off having to talk about their real feelings and issues. It becomes increasingly clear that whilst Gene is struggling with a secret, so is nearly everyone else and being their authentic selves seems to be the hardest role of all.
Part of Gene’s struggle is that his friends are very sheltered and conservative and this is the thing I found most difficult to reconcile in this film. The friends are all deeply Christian. They don’t drink, they don’t smoke, and none have had any sort of romantic or sexual relationship (premarital sex and abortion are talked about with horror.) In an awkward moment of trying to talk about his sexuality Gene freaks out at the last minute and instead comes out as agnostic to them instead – which inspires some funny moments but also goes down like a lead balloon with his friends.
I found it hard to accept that a group who are supposedly so into the arts could have so little understanding of other lifestyles (seriously – the theatre kids don’t know any gay people, or appreciate queer icons?!) The ensuing numerous discussions around faith seemed so at odds with everything else they’re supposed to care about – but Dramarama does feel deeply ‘American’ – so maybe it just didn’t resonate with me as a British viewer whose own experiences with youth held beliefs have been so very different.
They are certainly a fun gang though, the cast working seamlessly together to create the impression of people who’ve been friends forever and are truly comfortable in each others company whilst throwing in enough angsty furtive glances to hint at the slowly revealed suggestion that nearly everyone fancies everyone else. Their murder mystery party is an irresistible idea and one you’d want to go to, whilst each actor gets a chance to shine in what are individual nuanced roles.
I like as well that many of the that characters key questions and problems are left unresolved – it’s a bold bit of filmmaking to not go for the easy, happy smiley ending. (That’s not to say you need to worry about a sudden brutal change in tone, Dramarama might capture some teen awkwardness but it remains fun at heart.) Wysocki’s unique approach to the coming out story instead takes the opportunity to leave us dangling on the precipice, hinting at the monumental changes that are surely about to come as these young men and women come of age in college, but allowing the film to revel in the sweet innocence of one night of childish nostalgia.
Dramarama is a lovely little teen movie and an ode to 90s geeks everywhere, allowing us to spend a night with a set of quirky characters who are only just starting to question who they really are but not quite yet ready to cast off the charmed lives of their sheltered childhoods. An easy watch and an interesting suggestion at what it might have been like had John Hughes films had proper queer representation.
Dramarama is playing as part of BFI Flare, the London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival, between 17th – 28th March. You can buy tickets to stream it right here