Thursday, 25 March 2021

JUMP, DARLING - BFI Flare Film Festival 2021 review

Starring the legendary Cloris Leachman in her final role, Jump, Darling follows drag queen Russell, AKA Fishy Falters (Thomas Duplessie), who after splitting up with his boyfriend, decides to go and stay with his ageing grandmother, Margaret (Leachman). As Russell adapts to the pace of small town life and finds a possible new love connection at a local bar, it becomes increasingly obvious that his elderly grandmother, suffering from memory issues and unable to bathe herself, may need him to stick around for a while longer.

Originally planning on just stopping by to collect his deceased grandfather's car that Margaret has promised to her grandson, upon seeing how frail she is and also in need of some recovery time for himself, Russell moves in with Margaret whilst he plans his next move. Finding a local gay bar that he can inject some of his glamour into, Russell introduces the locals to his drag alter ego, Fishy Falters, drawing the attention of barman Zach (Kwaku Adu-Poku) and the possibility of a new romance. As Russell focuses on his career prospects, his mother Ene (Linda Kash) arrives on the scene, surprised to find that her son has moved his wigs, make-up and mirrors into his grandmother's attic and is selling some of her belongings to finance himself.

A mixture of traditional family drama with the vibrant possibilities of the world of drag, the absolute gem that Jump, Darling has is the presence of Cloris Leachman. Leachman, who won an Oscar 50 years ago for her role in The Last Picture Show but then sadly passed away this January at the age of 94, is noticeably frail but still on fine form here, and the interactions she has with Duplessie - of which more would have been welcome - are the understated beating heart of the film. Russell's re-integration into Margaret's life lies somewhere between him caring for and taking advantage of her, and the narrative works to find the wavering balance between his self-serving nature and sense of familial duty. This is something Margaret is seemingly aware of, but as long as she gets to stay in her house, she's happy. An expansion of this conflict could have lead to a stronger dramatic arc, particularly after the introduction of Russell's mother who cannot devote herself to caring for her mother and sees putting her into a care home as the only option.

Instead, the main narrative drive of Jump, Darling is Russell's reckoning with his status as a performer. Once with high hopes to be a successful dramatic actor (he bumps into an old school friend who recalls the expectation he was going to become "the next Andrew Garfield"), his career has instead lead him to drag, something his businessman ex-boyfriend snobbishly dismisses as"gay, variety show shit". But despite their jibes, Russell (and Duplessie) is clearly having fun performing as Fishy Falters, and some of the stand-out scenes are those where he performs lip-syncs at the local bar, including a fantastic 'kiss off' to a once potential suitor who reveals things Russell wasn't expecting.

Although certainly not a deep dive into the art of drag - that has, barring a couple of book-ending nightclub scenes Fishy as the only performer we follow - Jump, Darling convincingly sells us on why Russell has chosen this method of self-expression, within it finding a stronger connection to his grandmother who once had dreams in her youth of being an elegant ice skater. Some plot threads and characters are underdeveloped - the love story with barman Zach promises more than it delivers - but when Jump, Darling puts its focus on the cross-generational connection between Russell and Margaret, it works as a subtle, thoughtful drama, and as a tender farewell to the talents of Cloris Leachman.

Verdict

3/5

Jump, Darling is screening as part of the BFI Flare LGBTIQ+ Film Festival. The full line-up can be found on the BFI Player here.

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