Phil Connell’s Jump, Darling (★★★☆☆) is perhaps most notable for featuring one of the last performances of Cloris Leachman’s career.
The legendary actress, who passed away at the age of 94 in January 2021, offers a quietly profound, poignant look at Margaret, an elderly woman for whom life no longer has a discernible point. Lonely and isolated in her spacious home in Prince Edward, Canada, Margaret is more than ready to leave these corporeal confines for what lies beyond.
When her 30-year-old grandson Russell (Thomas Duplessie) arrives on her doorstep, following a breakup with his boyfriend (the narrative’s weakest storyline), she finds temporary reprieve from her pain.
Russell, however, has his own agenda, and as loving as he is, he can be curt and dismissive. An actor with dashed dreams, he’s set his sights on making his living as a drag queen named Fishy Falters.
“Is that a legit job?” Margaret asks. “Can be,” he replies. (Questionable, as no one seems to tip drag queens in Canada.)
Russell seeks out the one more or less LGBTQ bar in the small Canadian town and almost ballistically forces himself onto its staff and patrons. He attempts to court a barback but, like most everything else in Connell’s film, the end result feels fragmented and incomplete.
It doesn’t help matters that Russell is a dislikable, morose character, and Duplessie’s hang-dog eyes and uneven performance don’t do much to endear us to the man — or his drag persona.
Still, there’s no question Russell has an abundance of love and concern for his grandmother, a point driven home near the climax as Russell performs what seems like an act of selfishness that is, in reality, an act of selflessness. It’s the most honest, engaging instance in the film.
Overflowing with gorgeous production values, the faults in Jump, Darling lie squarely in an aimless screenplay that feels cobbled together on Post-it Notes. Director Connell’s narrative pacing is off — scenes that should have an extra beat end abruptly, while others, like Russell practicing his drag routine, go on far, far, far longer than they should.
So why watch it? Simple: Leachman.
Every time she shows up, you reinvest yourself in the film. Leachman’s depth, her soulfulness, her quiet, heartbreaking somberness recall one of her best early performances — Ruth Popper in 1971’s The Last Picture Show, for which she won an Oscar.
There are trace elements of Ruth in Margaret — quiet despair, regret, loneliness. Leachman makes an otherwise middling film worth its weight in gold. By the time it reaches its inevitable conclusion, your heart is duly filled.
Jump, Darling will be released on Tuesday, March 29 on DVD and digital platforms including iTunes/Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Vudu, Vimeo, DirecTV, Dish/Dish Digital, and through local cable and satellite providers. Visit www.jumpdarling.com.