BFI Flare Festival is all about showcasing the newest films that explore LGBT+ issues and the variety this year follows all paths of life from all corners of the globe. Opening the festival this year is Phil Connell’s Jump, Darling. The film follows Russell (Thomas Duplessie), a drag queen who moves back in with his grandmother, Margaret (Oscar winner Cloris Leachman) after his breakup. As Russell tries to decide what he wants to do with his life, he also finds himself taking care of Margaret who is reluctant to go into a care home despite her ailing health. The film was one of the last films Leachman starred in before she passed away earlier this year.
Connell’s screenplay and direction is nicely paced and he manages to get fully realised characters in its short 90 minute run. Despite the difference in lifestyles between Russell and Margaret, their similarities begin to show as both are trapped in their particular situations. Where Maragret is physically trapped as she is unable to leave the house, Russell is finding himself unable to fulfil his potential as a successful actor and feels the pressure of failure from family and friends. The scenes where Connell’s direction really shines is when Russell performs lip syncs as his drag alter ego, Fishy Falters. These scenes allow Connell to shift to a more experimental style of filmmaking as he mixes in differing camera angles and lighting that takes Russell out of his reality when he becomes Fishy Falters.
Duplessie is fantastic in the leading role as Russell and stands his own against Oscar winner Leachman. We first see Russell in a successful nightclub prepping for his drag debut as Fishy Falters. After stumbling on his way to the stage and leaving the club, he breaks up with his partner who thinks he is should pursue acting as he doesn’t think drag is a worthy career. When he moves in with his grandmother, we begin to see the clash between the two worlds that he seems to inhabit. Where Duplessie really shines is showing the difference between Russell’s life as a man who is trying to find his way versus his performances as the super confident drag queen, Fishy Falters. Duplessie’s stellar lip syncing is on par with the performances we see from professional drag Queens throughout the film.
As expected, Leachman is brilliantly cast as Margaret, the family matriarch who simply refuses to be put in a care home despite pressure from her daughter. Unable to drive or properly care for herself, Russell’s arrival brings a certain amount of freedom as Maragret begins to encounter old friends and start to find the joy in her life again. With Leachman having a stellar career playing strong women, Jump, Darling is no exception as we see Margaret grasping at the little control she has left. Wanting to cater to her grandson and encourage him to push out of his comfort zones, Margaret is quite a confrontational character but she also has a softer side when it comes to Russell. The scenes between Leachman and Duplessie are great to watch and even in her twilight years, Leachman shows that her star quality never went away.
One thing that I thought was particularly great in this film was the editing. Lev Lewis edits perfectly by utilising a more traditional cut in the scenes with the domestic troubles but then changing to a more exciting cut during the musical scenes. This helps to shift the genre of the film from drama to musical and keeps the film unpredictable and attentive. Lewis’ editing works perfectly to show the two worlds that Russell lives in and perfectly chronicles the emotional journey he takes.
Overall, Jump, Darling marks a great start to this year’s BFI Flare Festival and marks the start to a wonderful career for Duplessie whilst also being a lovely swansong for Hollywood icon, Leachman. Connell uses the minimalist surroundings and limited characters allows the two protagonists to shine and puts their acting at the centre. The chemistry between Duplessie and Leachman feels natural and the screenplay allows the relationship to develop naturally without resorting to any exposition. Jump, Darling is a film that will leave you laughing, crying and every other emotion in between.
Jump, Darling is opening the BFI Flare Festival.