Jump, Darling – Cloris Leachman’s swan song, with drag performers in leading roles
Russel (Thomas Duplessie) is an aspiring drag queen from Toronto who just broke up with his boyfriend, and decides to head to the Prince Edward County countryside to visit his grandmother Margaret’s (Cloris Leachman). He soon discovers that her health is failing, and her ability to live on her own is becoming problematic.
In a perfect, if precarious solution for both of them he moves in to protect her from her greatest fear, being shuffled off to a nursing home, which is what his mother’s ultimate goal is. Russell quickly integrates in the local community when he find a local bar that hosts a “gay night”. This is where he hones his skills as both a DJ, and drag performer under his alter ego Fishy Falters. Antagonized by his overprotective mother, a sexy-though-mysterious college boy, a cockney city gay bar owner, and the spectre of his failed-artist grandfather, Russell struggles to realize a bold new identity. Meanwhile, Margaret fights to retake control despite her faltering mind and body.
This is a stunning debut feature from Phil Connell, in so many ways. The simplistic storyline will resonate with many during our current pandemic health crisis that has hit nursing and senior residences particularly hard. It’s also particularly interesting to have such an established veteran actress (Leachman), play alongside a group of newcomers. It should be noted that originally the casting team had been looking at Shirley MacLain, but timing and scheduling didn’t work out. Everyone gives a strong performance, with due diligence given to each character, including the extended drag queen performance pieces. Keep an eye out for local talents, Tynomi Banks, Miss Fiercalicious, and Faye Slift.
By no means is Russell perfect, and his grandmother realizes that, forgiving him for some secrets and mishaps that she’s aware of. Deep down there is a strong connection of love between the two, each of whom are outsiders in different worlds. This is by far one of the better LGBTQ themed films to be released of late, and definitely makes Canada proud for proper well-rounded representation of the community. Let’s see how many Toronto and Prince Edward County scenes you can recognize.
The film takes on an even more monumental meaning, knowing that this was the last staring role for Cloris Leachman, who unfortunately passed away January 27, 2021, at the age of 94. She leaves behind a legacy of outstanding roles in many classic films, and now paves the way for the next generation of actors in the third millennium. Watching the ending, and knowing this was her last role, makes this movie even that much more worthy of watching.
VOD/Digital March 9, 2021
Watch this CBC interview with Thomas Duplessie for some more insight into this wonderful production.
For his debut feature film, Phil Connell wanted to make a family drama inspired by the cinematic traditions of American family dramas. Except for his version, Phil would replace America with Canada, and steep the film in his familiarity with queer culture.
“Family dramas were the films that got me interested in making films. Something about the intimate and idiosyncratic nature of a family-in-crisis grabs me – the tragedy, comedy and familiarity of it all. There was a practical benefit too – a chamber piece seemed like a reasonable scale to take on as a first feature.”
Over the course of the script development period, Connell’s chamber piece would lose some of that practical benefit, as the queer culture component grew in size and scale. “At some point, I realized I was writing a story about choosing life as an artist and queer identity, which led to writing scenes that depicted ‘life on the village strip’.”
Furthermore, Connell was steadfast that the role of Margaret [just had to] be played by marquee talent. “Family dramas by their very nature, with a few stunning exceptions, are independent fair. What tends to elevate them into the mainstream (or gives them the chance to do so) is a powerful matriarchal performance, from someone you know, recognize and cherish. Or maybe that’s just me.”
So, this is how Jump, Darling came to be: a micro-budget debut feature, a classic family drama fused together with drag culture, featuring one very special, Academy award-winning icon.
PHIL CONNELL (WRITER, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER)
Phil is a writer, director and producer. JUMP, DARLING, Phil’s debut feature film, starring Thomas Duplessie and Academy Award-winner Cloris Leachman, executive produced by Karen Harnisch and Allison Black, and distributed in Canada by Level Film is set for release in 2021. His action-drama series pilot, HUBRIS+PARANOIA was a 2018 BlueCat Semi-Finalist and, his geopolitical feature drama, RANA PLAZA about the 2013 factory collapse in Bangladesh, was recently reviewed by the BlackList as ‘well-polished’ and ‘a strong fit’ for Netflix and Amazon.
CLORIS LEACHMAN (MARGARET)
In a career spanning over seven decades she has won eight Primetime Emmy Awards, a Daytime Emmy Award, and an Academy Award for her role in The Last Picture Show (1971). Leachman was a part of Mel Brooks’ ensemble cast, appearing in iconic roles such as Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein (1974) and Madame Defarge in History of the World, Part I (1981). Her longest-running role was the nosy and cunning landlady Phyllis Lindstrom in the CBS sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off, Phyllis, in the 1970s.
THOMAS DUPLESSIE (RUSSELL)
Originally from New Brunswick, Thomas has been living in Toronto since 2008. After graduation from theatre school, he has worked consistently in theatre and television, appearing in episodes of In the Dark, Man Seeking Woman, Heroes Reborn, Reign and Murdoch Mysteries to name a few. He has performed alongside such stars as Jay Baruchel, Megan Follows and George Wendt. Most recently, Thomas made his feature-film debut starring opposite Academy Award- winner Cloris Leachman in, Jump, Darling.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.