Jump, Darling starts with a bang. Almost. Because the actual explosive moment takes place off screen and is only briefly referred to later on. And that’s because the incident itself isn’t that important – but what it signifies and what it tells us definitely is. In this instance, it reflects Margaret’s (Cloris Leachman) decline and happens just days before she finds her aspiring actor/drag artist grandson Russell (Thomas Duplessie) standing in her living room. Given that he lives in the city and she’s out in the country, he’s hardly just passing by …..
Director/writer Phil Connell is equally sparse in explaining the reason behind that arrival. Russell and long-term boyfriend Justin (Andrew Bushell) have split up and, with nowhere else to escape to, his elderly grandmother seems to provide the refuge and comparative quiet he needs while he gets back on an even keel. What he hasn’t reckoned on is her steep decline – or that, like him, she’s at a crossroads. While he’s trying to find a way forward, both personally and as a performer, she’s more forgetful than she likes to admit but is stubbornly refusing to listen to daughter Ene’s (Linda Kash) suggestion of moving to a retirement home.
While grandmother and grandson fight their internal battles – Russell is suffering from depression while Margaret is facing the inevitability of her advancing years – the narrative fluctuates between the two and their varying fortunes. Their respective character arcs are developed with clarity but, while this is Duplessie’s breakout performance, the film belongs to Leachman, to the extent that when the focus is very much on Russell, it sags just a touch. She lights up the screen in what is one of her last performances, fragile and failing yet also giving us more than a glimmer of what she was like in her heyday, from the elegant clothes tucked away in her wardrobe to her deliciously barbed way with words.
While it’s not exactly feelgood, Jump, Darling is certainly warm hearted and touching, especially in its bittersweet ending and its unhurried pace that allows the audience to fully absorb the story and its characters. It delicately and gently balances the start of a new life – or the attempt to start one, at least – with another which has moved into a more reflective mode as the light starts to fade. And, while Leachman and Duplessie are very much at the centre of it all, they’re given classy support by Kash and also Janet Eastwood who, in just a couple of scenes, tells an entire story of her own, one that crushes and humiliates her “old friend” Margaret.
Identity, change and self-understanding are also woven into the fabric of the film, but it’s also about love and kinship, with all their complexities and contradictions. All of which is a lot to pack in to the regulation ninety minutes but that takes us back to Connell’s lean direction. It means that, despite the emotions on show – and those off screen that must exist in our imagination – we’re never taken into the syrupy land of sentiment. Nor does it outstay its welcome.
Drama | Cert: tbc | BFI Flare, 17 – 28 March 2021 | Dir. Pete Connell | Thomas Duplessie, Cloris Leachman, Linda Kash, Janet Eastwood, Andrew Bushell