Russell Hill (Thomas Duplessie) is a young Toronto man whose dreams of being an actor are put on hold while he pursues a career in drag. His longtime boyfriend Justin (Andrew Bushell) doesn’t approve. He thinks the drag shows are a variety act, beneath Russell’s talent. “He wanted to be an actor and now his fear of ambition has become bar star.” One break-up later, Russell packs up and moves to rural Prince Edward County in Eastern Ontario to bunk with his sickly grandmother Margaret (Cloris Leachman).
It’s an adjustment. Margaret has dementia, his domineering mother Ene (Linda Kash) is a dark cloud—“I barely hear from you,” she says, “and now you’re squatting with your grandmother.”—and Hannah’s Hovel is the only gay bar within a hundred clicks. Ene wants to put Margaret in a care home, a safe place where she can be cared for or fall down the stairs. Margaret doesn’t want to trade her home for “a prison,” and certainly doesn’t want to live with Ene.
To keep Margaret out of a home, and himself in one, Russell becomes the elderly lady’s primary caregiver as he navigates like in his new small town.
The feature debut of writer/director Philip J. Connell revolves around a trio of characters. Ene is given the least to do, stuck as she is, trying to manage both Margaret and Russell, but Kash brings humanity to the tightly wound character.
The stars of the show are Duplessie and Leachman in her final leading role.
As Russell, Duplessie subtly portrays the pain that brought him to this point in his life. It’s nice, charismatic work that finds an interesting duality between Russell and his drag character Fishy Falters. What could have been a fish-out-of-water story is elevated by a performance that is about courage, empathy and staying true to your passions.
Like Duplessie, Leachman finds the vulnerability in Margaret, creating a character who is at once frail but driven by the strength of her convictions. It is a tremendous late-in-life performance that doesn’t rely on old codger tricks. Instead, Leachman allows subtlety to fule her performance. Quiet but feisty, her facial expressions tell her story as much as the dialogue.
“Jump, Darling” features a couple of show-stopping musical numbers from Fishy Falters but succeeds because of its focus on the family and their dynamics.