Movie review: Jump, Darling #Queerscreen

(courtesy IMDb)

Stymied dreams are never an easy thing with which deal, bringing with them not only frustration at plans thwarted but also a palpable kind of grief at envisaged possibilities lost.

There is a searing, often quietly-expressed, emotional devastation to stories of people caught in an unfinished limbo of their own inadvertent making, which can make for evocative stories if well told.

Unfortunately, 2020 drama Jump, Darling isn’t well told.

The failures are not fatal, with Cloris Leachman, in her third last feature film prior to her much-mourned death in 2021, bringing a luminosity of loss to her role as an ageing Canadian woman named Margaret who, in her dotage, is increasingly questioning why it is she is alive when so much of her seems to have died already.

Her closet is full of framed photos and unused ice skates, souvenirs of a once-vital, dreams-filled life which she expected to live out with her husband who is no longer around for reasons best left to the unfolding of an at-times poignant narrative.

Her performance as a woman marooned in time is immensely moving, her initial spirit and quip-heavy response to the unexpected arrival of her grandson Russell (Thomas Duplessie) giving away to a sense of listless futility and a disappointment that far from coming to rescue her from ill-kempt loneliness, he is simply there to take the car she promised him some years earlier.

So impactful is Leachman’s performance that, quite apart from wanting to give her a hug and make her a decent meal, you understand quite quickly that her dreams are now so far out of reach that she can’t remember what they are or why she was pursuing them in the first place.

It’s at this point, awash in loss and quiet, sad regret that the arrival of Russell could have acted as some sort of reassuring circuit breaker, a chance for both of them to rediscover what matters to them, and to do it together.

Unfortunately Russell is not the sort of character to make this sort of scenario come heartwarmingly alive.

He is desperately self-involved, rude and unlikable to pretty much everyone he meets, and as we meet him at the start of the film, he is leaving his frustrated but supportive boyfriend Justin (Andrew Bushell) with a month of frozen meals in the freezer and the care of their dog.

This might come across as one of those inspiring carpe diem moments so beloved of indies films were it not for the fact that Russell’s petulant departure follows encouraging words from Justin that he’ll do what it takes to get Russell’s acting career back on track, even if it means leaving Toronto for New York City or L.A.

Not so inspiring anymore, is it?

It becomes less so when you discover Russell has no firm plans for acting school, ostensibly the reason why he’s leaving and only intends to drop in on Margaret to get the car and maybe embezzle some money from her.

Granted, having a glaringly imperfect protagonist can be a good thing for a film which knows how to use them effectively to tell an impactful story, but director/screenwriter Phil Connell seems unable to fully use this anti-hero to full effect, with not much resulting bar the fact that we have affirmed to us time and again that Margaret’s grandson is not a very nice person.

Almost as bad is the fact that whatever story of finding and following your dreams hidden within the uneven narrative of Jump, Darling, never really makes any sort of cohesive sense.

We see at the start of the film that Russell loves performing as a drag queen in his spare time – although, as Justin laments, a little selfishly to be fair, it’s not much of a career – but it’s not really made clear how much it matters to him because at no point does Jump, Darling nail Russells’ drag-loving colours definitely to the mast.

In one sense, that’s be applauded since the film eschews the usual trope-heavy been-there-done-that of someone discovering their true passion and having their life magically and irrevocably transformed.

In its commitment to not taking the easy, Disney-eseque route to life reborn, Jump, Darling is to be commended, especially when it allows both characters the time and reflection to really examine their hopes and dreams and wonder what became of them and what night come of them again.

These moments are there, and they give the film a warm, heartbreaking intimacy at times but they are undone by the cold, callousness of Russell’s character and by its inability to chart a clear and relatable progression from lost to found again.

All of a sudden, at various points, Good Decision-Making Russell is cast aside in favour of Bad Selfish Russell, and while, yes, we get it, people are complex and contradictory beings, the swings are too sudden and not sufficiently explained or gradated to have much emotional impact.

In fact, you soon cease to care about Russell and the trail of self-realising damage he leaves wherever he goes, whether it’s with brief fling Zachary (Kwaku Adu-Poku), his well-intentioned mother Ene (Linda Kash), bombastically prissy gay club owner Rene (Mark Caven) or his long-suffering grandmother herself.

In fact, the only person that really matters in the end is Margaret who deserves a more patient daughter and a grandson who actually cares about her for longer than a scene and whose final scenes slice your heart clean open with an emotional power palpably missing from the rest of the film.

Jump, Darling isn’t by any estimation a disaster or a failure of a film; there’s enough here to make watching it worth your while, but it does fail to imaginatively or creatively execute on a compelling premise, leaving us hanging onto the narrative thread of one single though brilliantly watchable character and thinking of might have been.

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