When you reach the end of the road you are on, what can you do? There are two answers, you stop or change direction. In Cloris Leachman’s final film made prior to her death, both these alternates are explored, and the poignancy is inescapable.
Leachman plays Grams, the aging grandmother grown tired, frail, and distanced from the passions that engulfed her earlier years. Dreams of joining the ice capades are barely a memory. Facing a slow exit from her life, or the inertia of a retirement home, she grapples with what little sovereignty she has left.
Her grandson, Russell (Thomas Duplessie), has just fallen out of the comfort of a long-term relationship. His drag career is going nowhere, and his partner is tired of pretending to their friends that Russell’s current gig is a stepping stone to a bigger acting career. Russell returns to his Grams home, at first because he needs someone new to leech off, but over time because the sparky but vulnerable old lady needs him
Whilst last year’s BFI Flare movie My Fiona explored the unknowability of why someone might commit suicide Jump, Darling takes a more definite stance. Over their heads looms the death of Grams’ husband, driven by self-destructiveness. Each character then has to make their own choices between personal pain and self-determination. Will they accept the misery of their situations or change them?
The story is affecting, not gloomy. It succeeds because of the wonderful dynamic between Leachman and Duplessie, both in the acting and the clever ways the script mirrors circumstances between the two of them. With back-to-back scenes showing individual humiliation both then demonstrate the Art of Not Giving a F*ck. Turns out it is the intergenerational superpower of old ladies and young drag queens.
The end of this film is everything. No spoilers but if director and screenwriter Phil Connell had been told to create a part for Leachman with the simple goal ‘make them miss her’ he probably would have ended up right here.
Review by ANDREW HEBDEN
Queerguru Contributing Editor ANDREW HEBDEN is a MEDIA & CULTURAL STUDIES graduate spending his career between London, Beijing and NYC as an expert in media and social trends. As part of the expanding minimalist FIRE movement he recently returned to the UK and lives in Soho. He devotes as much time as possible to the movies, theatre and the gym. His favorite thing is to try something (anything) new every day.