Grandmother and grandson connect in Jump, Darling, a touching if familiar rumination on life and identity.
When we first hear Russell (Thomas Duplessie), the young man at the centre of writer/director Phil Connell’s debut feature film, he’s leaving a voicemail to his elderly grandmother. “Since when have you stopped driving?” his upbeat, crackled voice asks. Not long after, he’s showing up on her doorstep, hopeful of obtaining a car.
Such details might initially seem trivial: throwaway moments that serve the narrative only by way of economic exposition. As Connell’s bittersweet dramedy unfurls, however, the thematic resonance of cars; of the road—from vintage automobiles to philosophical chatter of life’s direction—begins to rev with the fervent roar of a vintage Jaguar.
But Jump, Darling is less a road movie than it is a film about journeys of a more existential nature. Figurative voyages through identity crises intertwine in this charming, if occasionally overly sentimental story about a rookie drag queen and his dementia-stricken grandmother (a towering performance from the late Cloris Leachman).
Connell dedicates his film to Leachman, who passed away earlier this year aged 94. It’s only fitting, then, that one of the Hollywood great’s final screen performances should be an absolute corker. As Margaret, a woman battling identity issues in the face of incurable disease, Leachman enthrals: floating seamlessly between frail vulnerability and spouting sharp, searing insults over the course of a single scene.
Duplessie, a baby by comparison, more than holds his own alongside acting royalty. After all, this is really Russell’s story: a coming-of-age-tinged tale about one man’s connection to his past, his future and, ultimately, himself.
Reeling from a recent break-up, he looks to escape the strobe-lit bustle of city life to help heal the wounds of financial woe, internal struggle and dwindling acting dreams—“Seriously, you were gonna be like Andrew Garfield, man.” It brings him to the rural home of Margaret—a momentary pit stop on the way to starting life afresh. But his ‘Grams’ is similarly lost: her debilitating illness compounded by lingering grief and the fear of being carted off to a nursing home by her astrologically-obsessed daughter (Linda Kash). Despite the generational gulf, there is much that grandmother and grandson share.
And so, anchored by moral obligation, Russell decides to stick it out in the sleepy, green Canadian middle-of-nowhere. Unsurprisingly, it proves fertile ground for introspection. After a generous helping of clear skies and healthy dose of serene seas, it’s here, amid picturesque countryside, that perspectives are altered, lessons are learned, and bonds are strengthened.
To say that Jump, Darling is conventional would hardly be incisive observation. Connell makes little attempt to divert the narrative down a road less travelled, as key beats and witty dialogue arrive oozing with familiarity. But that he leans heavily on a well-worn formula is not necessarily a slight on Connell’s movie. Rather, this is a film, and indeed a filmmaker, that understands and wholeheartedly embraces the comfort so often found in convention.
In doing so, Connell’s pièce de résistance—several pop-soundtracked drag sequences that give the film a musical quality while shrewdly offering insight into the character’s mindset—become all the more memorable. It might be largely uneven, but when it leaps, Jump, Darling really soars.
Elevated by two standout performances, Jump, Darling occupies that rare space of feeling warmly familiar while also offering a sparkle of ingenuity. At a taut 90-minutes, its numerous subplots occasionally feel underserved. But, for a film about journeys, you could do a lot worse than get lost in this one.
Words by George Nash
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