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Ja'mie: Private School Girl (2013)
HBO Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 8/5/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/21/2014
There's something inherently funny about a man dressed like a woman. I'm not talking about drag queens who transcend gender boundaries and look like (or better than) a woman, but a situation where it is clearly a man impersonating a woman. There's a long history of this in entertainment, from Some Like it Hot to Bosom Buddies to Tootsie, when a man puts on a wig, comedy gold can be struck. However, the formula isn't that simple. Slapping a dress on some dude doesn't automatically equal laughs. There needs to be some substance and at least a dash of lampooning to get the ball rolling. The HBO show Ja'mie: Private School Girl really demonstrates the pitfalls of drag comedy.
Ja'mie (Chris Lilley), pronounced juh-may, is a spoiled rich girl who attends a private school, where she is "School Captain" and leader of the 12th year prefects. Ja'mie sees herself as the school's role model, as she's involved in multiple activities, leads assemblies, and she assumes that she's a shoe-in for the school's student of the year award. Ja'mie loves spending time with her friends, as they judge others and shun those who aren't like them. At home, Ja'mie bullies her little sister, very abuses her mother, and begs her father to buy things for her. When she turns her attention to a boy at the neighboring school, Ja'mie finds herself falling in love. Speaking of boys, Ja'mie also feels a sense of pride when she reaches out to help an African refugee. However, Ja'mie's delusions of grandeur and her lack of remorse in her actions will eventually catch up with her.
Ja'mie: Private School Girl comes from Chris Lilley, an Australian performer known for the shows Angry Boys and Summer Heights High. Ja'mie was my first exposure to Lilley's work, but he's clearly talented, as he not only stars in the show, but he also wrote and directed each episode, as well as composing the theme music. And it's also obvious that Lilley did his homework, as Ja'mie smacks of reality. I don't know if the show accurately portrays the lives of upper-class white girls in Australia, but I can tell you that the dialogue spouted by Ja'mie and her friends sounds authentic, and many of Ja'mie's behaviors and affectations look like something which one would find on a reality show like My Super Sweet 16.
And therein lies the problem with Ja'mie: Private School Girl. If Lilley's goal was to make a show which acts as a quasi-documentary portraying the lives of the rich and spoiled, then he has succeeded. If his goal was to make an outrageous comedy, then he has not. I'm often heard to say that things are "funny because they are true", but Ja'mie is the exact opposite -- it's not funny due to the fact that it all feels real. I'm sure that many will find the antics of Ja'mie as being over-the-top and unbelievable, but a simple glimpse around the high-end shopping district of any major city will show you that they simply aren't. Is Ja'mie rude, obnoxious, and self-deluded (more on that in a moment)? Sure, but that doesn't make the show funny. The show comes near the envelope with Ja'mie's shenanigans, but it never truly pushes it. I kept waiting for the show to take that extra step and move into the absurd, but it never does.
That's not to say that Ja'mie: Private School Girl is completely worthless, it's simply not what I had expected. Instead of getting a truly outlandish show, we get the Australian version of something like The O.C. or 90210, with a man playing a teenaged girl in the lead role. Some of Ja'mie's dialogue and her reactions to things are funny, but the schtick gets old after a while. There's a scene in the first episode which takes place in a car where you will quickly realize that rapid-fire complaining and insults from the Ja'mie and her friends can be overwhelming. Each episode contains at least one laugh, but there's simply not enough diversity here. The series does contain a story arc, which offers a very predictable ending, but the shows run together. If nothing else, Lilley has created a very solid character who never veers from her course of being incredibly self-involved. Ja'mie is the kind of person who we would hate in real-life, but watching her behavior is at the least interesting, just not all that funny.
Ja'mie: Private School Girl doesn't do much for race relations on DVD courtesy of HBO Home Entertainment. The two-disc set contains all six episodes of the show. The show has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The show has been shot in a very natural, pseudo-documentary style, so we get nice, natural looking colors and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture does get somewhat soft at times and the depth is average. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which supplies clear dialogue and sound effects. The theme song booms from the speakers and the big party scene offers some nice surround sound action. There are several moments where the stereo effects shine by offering sounds coming from off-screen.
The Ja'mie: Private School Girl DVD contains a few extras. Disc 1 offers "Behind the Scenes" (31 minutes) for Episodes 1 and 3, which opens with Lilley performing the show's opening theme. From there, we go on-set, where we are present for the shooting of several key scenes including the dance number from the first episode and Ja'mie's big party. The Disc also includes 20 DELETED SCENES which run about 39 minutes. This includes a variety of scenes which come from the first three episodes. Disc 2 is very similar, as it offers "Behind the Scenes", a 34-minute featurette which brings us footage from the making of the Episodes 4-6. The reel of DELETED SCENES runs about 46 minutes this time, and contains a selection of cut moments from the last three episodes. Finally, we have an 8-minute reel of BLOOPERS.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long