Kicking off this year’s virtual BFI Flare Festival is the brilliant Jump, Darling, a heartfelt and passionate tale of finding your true self and voice. The concept of heading home to find yourself is certainly a well trodden narrative, but the beautiful central performances of Thomas Duplessie and the late Cloris Leachman bring a fresh perspective to the tale.
Directed by Phil Connell, Jump, Darling centres on young actor and emerging drag queen Russell (Duplessie) who escapes the city to stay at his grams’ (Leachman) house following a fight over his career with his boyfriend. However when he arrives at the small town he quickly discovers that his grandma Margaret isn’t quite the feisty free spirit he remembers, as her health has deteriorated due to dementia. His planned short stay turns into a longer break as he helps his gram out around the house and encourages her to socialise once again, while starting a new job at a local gay bar.
The family drama features a brilliant mix of heart and humour thanks to the excellent chemistry between leads Duplessie and Leachman. Opening during a bustling drag queen performance at gay bar Peckers, Connell instantly immerses us in an authentic snapshot of the scene, which he explores throughout Russell’s journey. The aspiring actor finds himself doubting his future as a drag queen, particularly following his boyfriend questioning his career choices, describing it as “gay variety show stuff” Connell boldly tackles the stigma and perceived notions surrounding drag queens as a career choice, particularly with Russell finding a sense of belonging and freedom of expression whilst performing as Fishy Falters.
Alongside Russell’s journey of self discovery is Margaret’s quiet acceptance of her declining health, as she attempts to fight to stay in her home. The duo really are very different individuals and different generations, and in other hands this film could quickly delve into familiar odd pairing tropes, but thankfully they find comfort and solace in the fact that they’re at a similar crossroads in life. It’s a poignant and moving narrative, which also explores stigma surrounding mental health in both leads, along with ageing. The charming tale of two lost souls who come together at just the right time certainly results in a sweet message of the importance of rediscovering ones purpose.
Jump, Darling is the perfect swansong for long-time LGBTIQ+ ally Leachman, who absolutely shines as the feisty but faltering Margaret. Her sensitive and emotive performance perfectly captures the confusion of someone who’s struggling with the loss of their memories. As she delivers the line “darling, my whole life I’ve been fighting for something, so preoccupied with something, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what it is. But you know your preoccupation, don’t you?” your heart breaks. Thankfully there’s a great mix of humour as well as heart between the two leads, which feels completely natural and effortless thanks to the brilliant chemistry. Duplessie is also excellent and captivating as Russell, particularly as he completely immerses himself while performing as Fishy Falters.
The film also features a number of fantastic lip synching drag sequences set to an outstanding electro soundtrack which reinforces the cultural fabric of the film, helping tie together the big city and small-town gay bars. Years and Years’ “Shining”, Robyn’s “Indestructible” and London Grammar’s “Strong” are particular standouts in certain scenes, paired with beautiful cinematography and lighting which gives the sequences a strong music video quality. Cameos from established drag queens Tyonmi Banks and Fay Slift also add weight and representation to the feature.
With a fabulous combination of fierce routines and an uplifting central message encouraging you to be your true self, Jump, Darling is a touching and moving festival opener. You’ll be certainly be drawn into the journey of self-discovery thanks to the brilliant dynamic between Duplessie and Leachman, who earn the incredibly moving closing moments.