A rookie drag queen reeling from a breakup escapes to the country, where he finds his grandmother in steep decline yet desperate to avoid the local nursing home.
I’ve been looking forward to the BFI Flare Festival because of this film. I was told about it a few weeks ago, and finally being able to see it, it did not disappoint. In recent years, we’ve seen drag queens all over and only gaining in popularity, so it’s only natural that films also begin to tell more of their stories. We’ve had a few over the years, and we’re all patiently waiting for the film version of the stage show Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, but until then, it’s truly lovely to see independent companies telling the stories for love and truth rather than for money like we expect from larger blockbusters.
Love and truth echoes through Jump, Darling like bittersweet ripples, calling us in and making us feel at home. The film stars Thomas Duplessie as Russell who wants to be an actor or a drag queen, unsure and floating through other people’s choices for him. When he decides to take a stand, he moves in with his Grandma, who is played by award winner Cloris Leachman, and we see the two bounce off of each other to learn about who they are and what they want to be. Duplessie and Leachman were a beautiful pairing, and seeing their natural relationship is what drives the film and the viewer’s hopes for it. Russell is someone who can see a life for himself doing drag but doesn’t really know how to get there. In private, and when he has a wig on, he becomes so fearless in who he truly is, not caring what others in the small-town think. The way Duplessie performs, wow, it was like seeing a lip sync battle winner taking the stage after being presented their prize. In everyday life, we see drag queens as larger than life personalities, people so bubbly with intoxicating styles.
However, they aren’t always made up for the stage, and we often don’t see or forget that. Duplessie’s role allows us to see into the drag world but also behind it, and how it isn’t always the glamour we expect or that the people getting into it want. The Grandmother is unapologetic, as older people often are. She’s lived a long life and can’t be bothered to fake a smile to make others feel better. Cloris Leachman steps into one of her final roles at the age of 94 with grace and determination. We see every wrinkle and struggle, but the strength that comes along with that is not downplayed at all. I see my own grandparents, even my parents, one day being in a situation where they possibly can’t decide what happens to them and that thought breaks my heart, so to play that part in a way that makes the audience feel like that, it really is a true talent.
Researching the film, it’s written and directed by Phil Connell who was inspired by the conversations he’d had with his own grandmother as her health declined. Even though he has stated that the film is not autobiographical, he has acknowledged the parallels between his own life in trying to establish himself as a drag queen. You really can see the truth in the film like I’ve said, and even though it’s fictional, to know the feelings are real just emphasises them all. Often films can miss the point or feel slightly off when exploring subjects like this, but to know care and actual thoughts have been included, it really does solidify Connell’s status as an emerging LGBTQ+ filmmaker.
Jump, Darling is a beautiful work of art, being something that anyone can see themselves in. The characters driving this film are strong, making the film a force of its own. Old mirrors young, showing us the angles of relationships and our own understanding, leaving us feeling loved and aware as the final shots take the stage. Death and life become full circle, letting us see that some people feel alive in the choices that they make, whereas others would interpret that as death. Like the term “social suicide” or choosing how we leave this world, Jump, Darling breathes life and acceptance into places where society may not normally allow it.