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Tuesday
Aug012017

Review: The Incredible Jessica James 

By Spencer Coile 

 The Incredible Jessica James is a marvel to watch -- at a sharp 85 minutes, James C. Strouse's latest effort breezes by as if on a cloud. It premiered on Netflix last week, and tells the story of its leading character named, you guessed it! Jessica James (Jessica Williams). Living flat broke in "deep, deep" Bushwick, she is harping over the recent break-up of her and her ex (Lakeith Stanfield), all the while struggling to get one of her plays produced on Broadway. 

When given the chance to go on a blind date with an app creator (Chris O'Dowd), Jessica soon finds herself questioning herself, her potential as a writer, and what it means to be a 20-something living in contemporary New York City. If that plot sounds generic, well, it is. But what makes the film truly soar is its star, Jessica Williams. 

Jessica James opens with our title character spilling her guts out to a random Tinder date -- she is not looking for a long-term relationship. After all, as she opines to him in a lengthy monologue, does love really exist? The only reason they are in that very bar is because her ex frequents that spot and she is hoping to make him jealous. Obviously, the date does not end well for either parties. This immediately sets the scene, however, for a character that is unlike anyone being portrayed on the big or small screen currently. Jessica James is not incredibly likeable. She is equal parts vulnerable and strong, finding this delicate line between being outspoken and being afraid to say what truly frightens her. 

Pure and simple: Jessica Williams is a star. Bringing ferocity and quiet desperation to an already prickly character, Williams manages to find shades of timidity, of tenacity, and of grit under every layer of Jessica James. The opening credit sequence rivals Baby Driver in spirit, where we follow Jessica dancing around her apartment. She moves and gyrates as if no one is watching her, getting lost in the music. In between breaks where she eats a sandwich and contemplates her rejection letters from Broadway producers, we have already been caught in James's web. Sure, she is vivacious and fun, but when she finds herself up on the rooftop overlooking the New York City skyline, the music stops and with it, Jessica. She stares out ahead of her, slowly turns, and walks back inside. In just a few moments, we have learned so much about a complicated character. She is full of life, but there is enough disillusionment, enough fear in her to know that her stand-offish persona is one she uses as a mask against her insecurities. 

The supporting cast spin gold from some of the pitfalls in the screenplay. Stanfield uses the little material he has to make Damon a person we long for as deeply as Jessica does. O'Dowd, in particular, has a unique dynamic with Williams. Considering the majority of the film centers on their romance, a lot of the time focuses on their time together. O'Dowd's Boone is intelligent, but dopey. He is sweet, but is equally as flawed as Jessica. Their relationship flourishes and dips so naturally, it is sincerely a joy watching them interact. The rapport their create crackles with personality and flair. We learn about each of these characters through the moments they share, the jokes they crack. You can't help but just chuckle along with them. 

The film is not without its flaws. Every storyline concludes with a cute bow on top, everyone finds what they are looking for. But considering the strength in Williams's performance and its quick run-time, it is easy to forgive some of bumps along the way. The characters are realized and the moments seem genuine. And maybe in a summer with blockbuster after blockbuster, that is the most incredible gift of all. 

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Reader Comments (4)

Liked it way more than this! Didn't see it as well-worn territory as you did. Guess it was a bit novel just because I don't think I've seen a black woman lead in a romantic comedy quite like this.

Nitpick: I don't think many (any?) of the theaters Jessica mentions are Broadway theaters/companies that would regularly produce on Broadway. They're regional theaters around the country.

August 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJake D

Strouse may be completely anonymous as far as a distinctive voice goes, but he has a real gift with actors. "Grace is Gone," for example, has one of John Cusack's most compelling 21st century performances.

Hopefully this delightful puff of a film will lead to many more starring roles for Jessica Williams. She's a born star.

August 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJason H.

I've had a thing for Jessica Williams ever since The Daily Show and Places People Things.
Strouse wrote this movie specifically for her - to give her a lead role where she could shine - and boy does she fucking shine!
The movie is nothing special, but it's worth watching for her.
She's absolutely marvelous.
She deserves to be a big star - but I hope the superhero movies leave her alone!.
It's bad enough they've scooped up Anya Taylor-Joy, Zazie Beetz, Tessa Thompson, Kiersey Clemons!

August 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

I loved Jessica Williams on The Daily Show.

I was so excited to see this.

And I'm sorry but what?

This is a table-read level performance.

She's literally just delivering the wooden lines as written and can't project any connection with anyone around her.

The rest of the film is a bloated pilot for an uninteresting Tv show. Leaves no cliche unchecked.

August 2, 2017 | Unregistered Commentergoran

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