Jump, Darling is showing at BFI Flare from Wednesday 17th March – Sunday 28th March, book tickets here.
The suicide of a loved one leaves a lasting, painful mark on any family, no matter how long ago it took place. Sometimes the life of that loved one remains shrouded in mystery; memories of their death too painful for words. Occasionally, a loved one’s actions are spoken about at length; feelings of unresolved guilt, confusion, and eternal love attached to their name. Even as time goes by and the past becomes a story, the suicide of a loved one continues to cast a shadow. The emotions, anger and pain of those left behind turning into a fear of the past repeating itself in children or grandchildren. Writer/director Philip J. Connell’s assured feature debut not only tackles these very issues but does so in a movie glowing with vibrant performances and tenderness. With Jump, Darling a touching and engaging story of love, loss, endings and new beginnings.
Russell (Thomas Duplessie) has just left his long term boyfriend after a disagreement on his artistic direction and career. His aspiring wish to be an actor fading into the distance while his drag creation ‘Fishy Falters’ slowly formed. And so armed with just a few bags, no money and two bottles of scotch, Russell heads out of Toronto, his taxi taking him deep into the Canadian countryside. His destination, his grandmother’s house, where a car owned by his late grandfather awaits him. The plan, to drive as far as possible from his previous life and find new acting opportunities. In turn, leaving behind his boyfriend, ‘Fishy Falters’ and his old city life.
However, on arrival, Russell finds his grandmother Margaret (Cloris Leachman) increasingly frail. Her memory fading while the house around her slips into disrepair. And while his mother (Linda Kash) visits once a week, Russell can’t help but feel guilty about the lack of attention he has paid to his grandmother. Therefore, he adjusts his plans, staying with the feisty Margaret while rekindling their relationship. His plan to move pushed even further back after meeting a man at a local bar. Meanwhile, as Margaret fights the idea of long term care, her own plans silently forming. Russell finds himself reflecting on the suicide of his grandfather. The unspoken pain, anger and hurt of his grandfather’s death finally finding a voice. Just as Russell defines his future needs, his mother accepts the path he has chosen, and Margaret silently plans her future.
Connell’s film is wrapped in the complexity of the junctions we all navigate in life. Some of these junctions are small; for example, whether to take a train or drive to our next meeting or accept that invite to a party we are unsure about. But sometimes, these junctions are large and complex, our decisions clouded by doubt, fear and uncertainty. The decision we make, whether moving to a new town or city or embracing a long-held dream at the cost of our friends or family, life-defining.
With the complexity of the themes on display in Jump, Darling, you may think the film would carry a heavy tone or sombre atmosphere. However, this could not be further from the truth. Jump, Darling is, in fact, humorous, tender and light in construct. The deep themes at play beautifully held in balance through the exceptional performances of Duplessie and Leachman. Here, both actors manage to convey the story’s depth and emotion while providing us with relatable, bold, loving and flawed characters.
At this point, let me pause for a while to reflect on Jump, Darling being the legendary Cloris Leachman’s final on-screen performance. It is hard to believe that Leachman was in her 90s at the time of filming. Her eyes continuing to sparkle with the wit, intelligence and joy of a truly sublime, unforgettable and majestic career. Her on-screen presence is utterly stunning as she steals every scene while allowing her co-stars to shine equally. And when partnered with Thomas Duplessie, the pair truly strike gold; their heartwarming relationship both believable and sincere.
There are echoes of 2019s Tucked in the intergenerational themes at play in Connell’s movie. But, unlike the friendship at the heart of Tucked, here they find a voice through the transformative relationships held by grandparents and grandchildren. Meanwhile, Jump, Darling’s sublime score ripples with energy as pop classics breathe life into the journey taken. The film’s delicious cinematography bathed in vibrant colour, which only further emphasises the story’s theme of endings and beginnings. And while there are points where Jump, Darling feels like it needed more time to explore its narrative fully, the resulting picture is honest, strong, emotional and loving. Its bold, fresh and beautiful exploration of family, secrets, rebirth and closure staying with you long after the credits have rolled. And as Leachman’s final performance, this is, without doubt, a beautiful curtain call for a true legend and passionate LGBTQ+ ally.