BFI Flare 2021

Jump, Darling review – a brilliant swan song for Cloris Leachman

The late actress gives a heartfelt final turn in writer-director Phil Connell's simple but joyous tale of intergenerational connection

Where do you go when your world’s falling apart? Grandma’s house, of course. Reeling from a break-up, amateur drag queen and aspiring actor Russell (Thomas Duplessie) arrives on his grandma Margaret’s (Cloris Leachman) doorstep with an overnight bag and no plan, as writer-director Phil Connell’s heartwarming drama Jump, Darling sets out to paint a touching portrait of this unlikely duo.

Placing sharp-witted Margaret and antsy Russell in the same frame, Connell creates a tender and amusing setting in which both parties accommodate each other: Russell, who supports his grandmother’s refusal to move to a “hell hole” nursing home, and Margaret, who dedicates her attic to Russell’s drag accessories, quickly fall into a settled and comfortable routine. That is until Russell’s mother and Margaret’s daughter, Ene (Linda Kash), arrives and family tensions alight with memories of past grievances and fury over future endeavours.

At the revelation of his own familial identity, memories of Russell’s past tumble into the present. In a particularly stunning sequence, flashbacks flicker in quick succession like a slideshow on fast-forward. It is the most pertinent editing choice of the film, the past and present colliding in an explosive confrontation of Russell’s possible genetic fate of alcoholism.

Although both grandmother and grandson are fighting for control of their lives, Jump, Darling primarily situates itself with Russell, who navigates the disparity of the neon-lit queer bar and his grandma’s sepia-lit home with ease. Adjusting to country life, Russell charms the bar’s owner and with no stage or mic, his drag persona, Fishy Falters, confidently lip-syncs with full choreography to relevant lyrics Russell might not otherwise choose to voice.

Throughout this debut Connell's use of music, which includes Years & Years and Rough Trade, eradicates any need for voice-over or vocalised exposition. Instead, the art of drag speaks to what Russell feels and when Connell’s camera finds him in a dressing room mirror, a brief pause for contemplation comes with the caveat of self-reflection. Russell is not consistently the most likeable character – his desperation results in an attempt at stealing money from his grandmother – though Duplessie’s performance does help to bring allure to this sometimes uncharismatic individual.

While Duplessie glitters, Leachman shines. Jump, Darling is a heartfelt swan song for the iconic Cloris Leachman, which marks her last appearance on-screen following her passing earlier this year. Remembered for her extensive accolades, and as the most awarded actress in Emmy history, Leachman appropriately concludes her filmography here by playing a character who refuses to let age define her. With a fully committed performance, it's Leachman's subtle smile that provides the true heart of the film.

While Jump, Darling could have been more grounded in its cinematic aesthetic, its fluctuating style occasionally bordering on the insecure, Connell’s film strongly charts the restlessness of escaping youth and the refusal to pass on quietly. As it crosses generational borders and embraces being at life's crossroads, there's real comfort to be found.

Jump, Darling 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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