A rookie drag queen spends time with his ailing grandmother in Jump Darling, one of the great Cloris Leachman’s final films
Reeling from a painful break up failed actor turned aspiring drag queen Russell runs from his apartment in the city to take refuge in his grandmother’s house in the Canadian countryside. Margaret, a proud but now ailing woman in her 80s is terrified of being sent to the local nursing home and quickly sets about convincing her grandson to move in permanently to help her keep her independence. Given his boatload of personal problems, Russell hardly seems the person to turn to for help. Jump Darling stars Thomas Duplessie as Russell and Emmy and Oscar winning actress Cloris Leachman as Margaret.
The first stumbling block for Jump Darling is that Russell is a deeply unsympathetic character. He has a serious drinking problem that has cost him his job performing in the city and left him flat broke. When he turns up on Margaret’s doorstep (who is frail and pleading for help whilst apparently suffering from the early stages of dementia) it is only to take her car and sell it for cash. On the quest for money and more alcohol he manages to convince the owner of the local bar to allow him to DJ and do drag performances, though once there is resolutely horrible to everyone. Though he is clearly troubled it is very, very hard to root for him.
The second issue is the frankly diabolical dialogue. Jump Darling feels like it was written by an alien visiting earth for the first time and having to impersonate a human after basing all their human knowledge on bits of pop culture they’ve intercepted over the last 80 years. And I don’t mean in a fun, over the top, drag performer way (which when done by Russell is very cringeworthy.) It’s in a ”who the hell talks like this?” way. Russell’s mother unironically proclaims the line ”what a bucolic view” at one point. A club owner with a cockney accent so bad it makes Dick Van Dyke sound like Danny Dyer tells a drag queen she ”hasn’t got the tits for it” and needs ”titanium bollocks.” There’s a very odd scene at the end where a previously unintroduced character gives a long Scarlett O’Hara-esque monologue about a failed relationship. It’s all just straight up bad.
Their marquee star Cloris Leachman is well, fine, but given very little to do and her legendary comic timing is pretty much left unused. Margaret’s fear of losing her independence should have been a much more powerful storyline but just seems wasted.
Finally, Russell’s journey throughout the film seems to be about him discovering and embracing his identity as a performer. (Even at the cost of being good to his family – again – are we supposed to like this guy?) And yet, he’s not a very good drag queen. Jump Darling does feature very good performances from Drag Race Canada alumnus Tynomi Banks and Toronto star Fay Slift and all they do is highlight how utterly boring Russells terribly named drag persona Fishy Falters is.
The extra half a star that has stopped Jump Darling from being a one star film has been given because at the very least, some parts of it are so bad they are genuinely funny. (There’s an elderly man selling wigs at the side of the road in the middle of the countryside the same way a farmer might have a vegetable stall – who buys roadside wigs? Where is he getting them from? We’ll never know.) If nothing else, me and my friend have spent the last several days loudly shouting to each other ”what a bucolic view” over very pedestrian landscapes. It might not be B-movie bad, but it’s something.
Jump Darling is playing as part of BFI Flare, the London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival, between 17th – 28th March. You can buy tickets to stream it right here