Phil Connell unfurls a wonderful picture with Jump, Darling, showing a great deal of poetic beauty throughout, thanks to two fantastic performances from Thomas Duplessie and the late Cloris Leachman.
Russell (Thomas Duplessie) is at a crossroads in life. Approaching 30 and wondering if his big plans to become a serious actor will ever come true, he looks for performance kicks as a drag queen. The drag causes friction with his strait-laced businessman boyfriend, so he takes off for a bit of space at his grandma Margaret’s (Cloris Leachman) house. Rather than the convenient crash pad he had in mind, his usually quick-witted gran is at her own crossroads, becoming more forgetful than she’d like to admit. As family secrets emerge, he is forced to find his feet, but will he land in stilettos or something sober?
While the concept of a man going back to elderly family members home to find himself isn’t the most original idea. It is one that writer/director Phil Connell manages to make his own by grounding it into as much reality as possible. While other filmmakers could lead us down an unwanted satire style path, Connell allows for the humour to come through while making sure we feel something for these two characters. By not solely focusing on Russell’s drag career and more on the idea of being lost and trying to find oneself. Connell allows his actors to settle longer into the psyche. Even supporting cast members are given chances to shine to show the human side of drag, which is long ignored.
In Jump, Darling, what stands out here is that there is next to no angst between the characters about what Russell wants to do or is doing with his life as a drag queen. In fact, his family are the ones who almost actively support it. They do not feel anything negative towards his homosexuality. By embracing it and informing the audience from the get-go, we have a story that doesn’t involve the standard tropes of “coming out” to his family and what entails within that.
The only angst that comes into the film about Russell is his ex-boyfriend being embarrassed by him wanting to do drag, as that will negatively affect his career (the stigma is still prevalent and looked down upon, it seems). When Russell finds a romantic interest in the small town outside Toronto, he is left hurt by revelations of the shame hidden deep within people still. This is accentuated from the fact that when Russell’s mother asks about the break up, he hides it from her and the fact that he is performance as a drag queen at the local bar.
The needless shame inside and outside of his own community hurts Russell and with all of the negative feelings towards something he has begun to love to do, he is stuck. This is an scenario that will open the eyes for those unaware of some of the feelings towards those who dress in drag and that while strides have been made. There is still some more for us to do.
It would be impossible not to comment on Jump, Darling without talking about Cloris Leachman’s performance, who delivers phenomenally here. This soft and careful performance is full of wry comments and sensitivity of a woman who has struggled with loss in her life and now at her most fragile, her memory and purpose is leaving her. She knows she will become a burden upon her family and the juxtaposition between her and Russell highlights this. As Russell feels lost in his world, he is reminded that he has along time left in life to figure it out.
This realistic look, of course, goes beyond Margaret, and the depiction of Russell by Duplessie is just as strong. The emotional chemistry he has with veteran Leachman bleeds out onto the screen as that banter off one another. This chemistry heightens when we reach the more dramatic portions of Jump, Darling, allowing the audience to have their hearts ripped from them as both decide what is next. Duplessie shows a great deal of confidence. It is a quiet performance, and Russell’s unassuming nature allows him the chance to breathe and feel lived in. When we reach the scenes of Russell performing, it truly feels as if we are witnessing someone utilise that creative spark; they have to be something more. Whether he knew it or not, this is his purpose, and Duplessie does so well bringing this person to life.
Jump, Darling is a uniquely satisfying picture that, while tugs on the old heartstrings, earns its ending by the third act. A confident and rewarding film that needs to be seen.
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