Reeling 2021: Jump Darling sends off Cloris Leachman in style

Jump Darling

The late, great movie star gives a stupendous performance in this winning odd-couple dramedy.

(This review is part of our 2021 coverage of Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival.)

Where do we go when we feel like we’ve reached the end of the road?

Jump, Darling follows two lost souls—a grandmother and her grandson—both lost in their lives. Russell (Thomas Duplessie) has just broken up with his long-term boyfriend, a man who didn’t support his drag persona, Fishy Falters. With nowhere to live and no stable income, Russell moves in with his grandmother, Margaret (the inimitable Cloris Leachman). as her faculties shut down, Margaret comes to depend on her grandson. Before long, Russell realizes he needs his grandmother, too. They encourage each other to live life as they would have it lived and to remember that sometimes letting go is a path to peace.

Jump, Darling’s success is owed its assemblage of powerhouse women performances. Its supporting cast includes Jayne Eastwood as Margaret’s sometime bridge-playing frenemy who hides a piercing small-town menace behind her smile, Linda Kash’s Ene—Russell’s mother, and Margaret’s daughter. Ene is sensitive and funny, thanks to Kash’s impeccable sense of timing and her ability to draw out moments of grace, heart, and humor.

Jump, Darling

But it’s Leachman who walks away with the picture, one of her last. Even in her early nineties, Cloris Leachman made scripts crackle. Margaret is worldly and sometimes morose, but not without humor. Still moments on her face reveal the complexity of her internal life. Perhaps it’s because both Margaret and Leachman are and were at the end of their lives, but I found Margaret to possess a tremendous physicality—Leachman acted all the way through every limb, to the very last.

Director Phil Connell has assembled a cast that feels like a real family. Duplessie’s best moments come when he’s having meaningful conversations with his mom and caring for Margaret. Though Russell’s life is far from tidy at the end of the film, we get a sense that he’s found direction thanks to the rising sense of self-assurance Duplessie has crafted for him, a decision that proves critical to the picture’s success.

Rather than putting his characters through hell to demonstrate their worth, as so many do, Connell has them lean on (and learn from) each other.

Jump, Darling has a story more than it has a plot. The stakes, if any, are very low. It can be difficult to build a compelling film about the internal personal processes of finding yourself and taking life as it comes at you. With a plot, literally everything happens for a reason, to work towards a specific end goal or point. Without care, pictures that aim to study characters as they work themselves out can end up aimless and draggy.

Thankfully, Jump, Darling’s stellar ensemble performances, and richly sexy lighting make it something different from the average queer indie domestic drama. In doing so, it offers the stage two demographics – the elderly and the queer, who are seen as “useless” by society. Rather than putting his characters through hell to demonstrate their worth, as so many do, Connell has them lean on each other and learn from each other. The end result is a warm, thoughtful intergenerational story that shows the heights that can be achieved when we take care of each other.

Jump, Darling Trailer:

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