Jump, Darling is the drag film for our generation | BFI Flare Review
Phil Connell’s feature debut, Jump, Darling, was inspired in part by his own conversations with his elderly grandmother. It’s not autobiographical per se, but the personal nature of the story captures a simplistic beauty and tenderness that feels authentic and vulnerable.
As he approaches 30, Russell (Thomas Duplessie) must begin to decide on his path in life. He spent his life working to become a serious actor, but a recent flirtation with drag performance has him contemplating a life change. Unable to cope with the judgements of his businessman boyfriend and his own shame, he runs away to his elderly grandmother, Margaret’s (Cloris Leachman), house, where he expects to crash for a few days before taking her car (and some of her money) and continuing on his journey of self-discovery. But a bond begins to form between the two, allowing both Russell and Margaret to evaluate what they want out of life.
Jump, Darling’s greatest asset is its performers. It’s a film that demands captivating and flooring performances, which are absolutely delivered by Thomas Duplessie and Cloris Leachman. The pair counteract each other in the most beautiful ways: Leachman is quiet, nimble, soft but still demands attention; Duplessie is loud, messy, chaotic yet, despite his outward confidence, on the brink of sadness. When together, the two bring out the other’s strengths, creating a duo that you want to watch forever.
It’s almost unbelievable that Leachman could give such a nuanced, passionate yet reserved performance at the age of 94, but she does exactly that. Her presence on screen is inspiring, allowing you to appreciate her phenomenal talent and reminding you of the legacy she leaves behind.
And, of course, you can’t speak about this film without discussing the beautiful and powerful drag performances. Between Connell’s direction, Viktor Cahoj’s cinematography and Duplessie’s lip-synching prowess, the drag acts become the most exciting parts of the film, leaving you waiting for the next one to happen. Although the film does have some narrative issues, it shines with its core message, allowing us to appreciate the life behind the fabulous entertainer.
Jump, Darling falters because of its confusing (and, at times, unbelievable) narrative. Russell comes from a family that is supportive of his sexuality, with both his mother and grandmother having no qualms about his homosexuality. Yet, he’s shamed and ostracised by his family and his long-time boyfriend for wanting to perform drag. This feels like an odd characterisation for a group of people that are otherwise very accepting, seeing as, in the large scheme of things, drag really isn’t that different from an acting career.
And then there are these moments of spiritual premonitions, which feel misplaced in this overall realistic story. These otherworldly glitches are never explained nor explored; we are never given a purpose for these episodes. Rather, they seem like an easy way to move the story along without having to provide exposition and could have easily been without.
But these are just small problems in an otherwise charming film. You truly lose yourself in Duplessie’s magical performance, making any faults in the film just fade away. Jump, Darling is a charming celebration of the queer experience, giving us a backstory for the queens who bring us so much joy.