BFI Flare 2021 Review: Cloris Leachman Delivers a Scene-Stealing Turn in Touching Drama ‘Jump, Darling’

Phil Connell writes and directs Jump, Darling, a sweet-natured dramedy that serves as a poignant swan song to screen titan Cloris Leachman. Connell captures how the unlikely reunion between a distant Grandmother and Grandson helps both progress from their respective crossroads in life, packed with well-crafted characters, inspired musical choices, and quiet moments of charm.

Russell (Thomas Duplessie) is down on his luck thanks to a predilection for booze, a faltering relationship, and an amateur drag career inhibited by his lack of sobriety. In need of some space from his straight-laced boyfriend, Russell visits his grandma Margaret (Leachman) who faces her own battles from the onset of dementia to her daughter’s desire to put her in an assisted living facility. The unlikely duo are faced with helping each other find their feet again.

Connell and co-writer Genevieve Scott craft two particularly endearing characters through Russell and Margaret – a flamboyant, self-destructive drag artiste and a declining, yet fiercely independent nonagenarian. Whilst both share a vulnerability, they are also fighters with Jump, Darling showcasing how they help each other unlock that within each other. Jump, Darling is not necessarily feel-good due to the positions we find the characters in; the tone is occasionally sombre and quiet, with sprinkles of optimism delivered through wit, romance and high-energy performance scenes.

Russell’s journey is one that forces him confront his problems head-on, a true challenge for him, shown in the fact that the film opens with him running and withdrawing from the adversity he faces within himself. There’s a natural fish-out-of-water intrigue in seeing the character navigating small town USA and interacting in a location with what appears to be a small LGBTQ+ community, yet a romance with closeted bisexual bar worker, provides some steamy romantic tension and sexual chemistry to the fold, whilst also redirecting Russell’s journey back on track from his destructive rut.

Jump, Darling tackles themes of the power of familial bonds throughout, from the initial endearing pairing of Russell and Margaret, to the relationship between Russell and his mother (Linda Kash) who is keen to steer him on the right path in life (albeit occasionally in a misguided manner). Connell also tackles the tense emotional ground of watching loved ones get older and the bittersweet sadness of the ageing process – powerful scenes of Margaret and her daughter navigating a sterile nursing home or Margaret reminiscing on her past ice skating glories add a heartfelt emotional depth to Jump, Darling.

These tough emotional concepts are balanced by gentle doses of humour. Leachman is tremendous as the dry-witted and kind-hearted Margaret. The actress showcases the grandmother’s vulnerabilities and the sadness of dementia whilst lacing the role with an undeniable warmth and dynamism. Similarly Thomas Duplessie ensures that Russell is endearing to viewers in his journey from rock-bottom to back on track. Jump, Darling deserves praise for its striking drag performance sequences performed with a burning energy by Duplessie, capturing a sense of passion and perseverance within the character – most notably in a enthralling performance to Robyn’s Indestructible. Further music choices from Scissor Sisters’ SWERLK, Rough Trade’s High School Confidential, and Allie X’s Prime – not to mention a cameo from the legendary Tynomi Banks – bring additional energy and queer joy to Jump, Darling.