Identity and autonomy take center stage in ‘Jump, Darling’
Phil Connell’s Jump, Darling will take center stage as the closing night feature for this year’s FilmOut San Diego LGBTQ Film Festival. The Canadian director’s feature debut is an impressive film with a dream cast.
Russell (Thomas Duplessie) is a young gay man and rookie drag queen trying to figure out who he is. When his boyfriend dumps him, he finds himself with nowhere to go except to the remote home of his grandmother, Margaret (Cloris Leachman), in Prince Edward County. There he discovers that her health has declined much more than he realized, and her mental faculties are not what they once were.
As the two settle into a sort of pattern together, they naturally begin to share and learn from each other in unexpected ways.
This could easily have been yet another played-out story about a young gay man and his feisty grandmother with obvious jokes and mishaps aplenty. That’s not what this story is about, however. Connell’s script brings depth to these archetypes that we’ve rarely seen and weaves an undeniable emotional connection to his audience.
That starts, of course, with his cast.
This was one of Cloris Leachman’s final performances. One could easily say that knowing this adds gravitas to Margaret’s arc. Here is a woman who has taken care of herself throughout her entire life and chafes at the idea of being placed in a retirement home. She knows that the life she’s led is ending, and she is determined to face it on her own terms, in her own house, and in her own time.
The viewer cannot deny Leachman’s talent here, however. Another actress might have simply phoned in her scenes. Leachman came to work, and it shows. She walks the tightrope between vulnerability and self-preservation beautifully and practically dares you to doubt her resolve throughout the film
Duplessie, meanwhile, brings a vibrant energy to Russell. He is chaotic and self-destructive in the ways that only a young man can be. He is the wild splash of unexpected color in his stark rural surroundings, and his drag performances throughout Jump, Darling would have the most ardent Drag Race fans on the edge of their seat.
Connell uses the rural setting of the film to significant effect. The world seems almost devoid of life at times outside the home. The color palette is washed out. The quiet of the country becomes oppressive. The loneliness of both Russell and Margaret moves into the foreground. This isolation creates an environment that lends itself well to his introspective story and heightens the frustrations of both.
There are times, even, when it provokes a sense of dread in the viewer.
Sadly, Connell did not extend this depth of storytelling to his supporting cast. While he has a talented roster, most play stock characters half-forgotten by the time the credits roll. They fulfill their purpose, check off their plot-point box, and move on with little connection to the audience. This would be fine, except it plays against his otherwise brilliant character development between grandmother and grandson.
What could have been defining moments in the story fall flat because these secondary characters don’t have any real, palpable connection to the central characters and, thus, no real connection for the audience.
Despite this shortcoming, Jump, Darling is an undeniably moving film experience worth seeing if for no other reason than to be reminded what an enormous talent Cloris Leachman was, even at the age of 94.
Jump, Darling will screen at MOPA at Balboa Park at 7:30 pm on Sunday, September 12, 2021.
FilmOut: The San Diego LGBTQ Film Festival happens from September 9 through September 12, 2021.
For more information and to purchase tickets, click HERE.
The NAT is located at 1788 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
MOPA is located at 1649 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101