Imagine sitting across from you is a dorky white guy you met on Tinder. You’re mid-way through the date feeling apathetic and bored about how the night is going. So you speak aloud random musings about how personal fulfillment through romantic relationships are dangerous and how you would “rather have your period for a thousand years non-stop than to continue the conversation.” This is the mind of Jessica James.
This review contains mild spoilers
This is the opening scene to The Incredible Jessica James. A rom-com directed by Jim Strouse (People Places Things) is a story about an aspiring playwright in New York who strikes up a friendship with a guy while on the rebound from a break-up. Starring
Jessica Williams (Jessica James), Chris O’ Dowd (Boone) Noël Wells (Tasha) and Lakeith Stanfield (Damon); this quirky New York story uses social media as a punchline and is a story anyone can relate to, especially in the digital age. Jessica James goes out on a date with a guy she met on Tinder. She’s incredibly apathetic about the date and makes it clear to her gentleman suitor that she’s not interested in how this evening is going and that getting laid is not an option.
In this story, Jessica still has feelings for her ex-boyfriend Damon. She later meets Boone on a first date. After a series of dates, she discovers he has feelings for his ex-girlfriend Mandy. Jessica and Boone begin to slowly build a mutual understanding of each other’s relationships both past and present. Whether or not these two are in love with one another, is never determined, but the blossoming of their courtship is entertaining to watch unravel.
There are some incredibly funny moments in this film. The opening title dance sequence performed by Jessica Williams is brilliant for starters. There’s a moment of whimsy we begin to experience right away when we see Jessica dancing in her apartment. She stops when she sees peanut butter and jelly on her dining table and pauses to eat during her dance break. She resumes after finishing and dances her way to the rooftop of her building.
There’s also another scene when Damon was threatening to jump to his death while only on the second story of Jessica’s apartment building and when he accidentally falls off the ledge, a New York pedestrian walks over him completely unbothered. I cackled. The relatability of Jessica James is pervasive. It struck a chord with me personally as someone who has been a social media stalker over an ex and has not yet come to terms with the end of a breakup. Jessica Williams does a fantastic job of not trying to be overzealous or slapstick towards her attempts at humor and her subtle backhanded sarcasm and strong wit is what made this character so interesting and compelling to watch.
Jessica is trying to chase her dreams of being a successful playwright, and even if it means having to compromise her personal relationships; she’s still trying to find her place in this specific industry and quite frankly–in the world. Boone is trying to get over his ex and move on and finds some inspiration through his newfound relationship with Jessica. He fumbles along the way but eventually finds a path to heal and move on the more time he spends with Jessica.
Jessica Williams and Noël Wells are the standout performers in this film. Jessica, the lead protagonist, draws you in during every scene and is mesmerizing to watch. She’s quirky, funny, and ideally the character you would expect to see in a rom-com. Wells as her BFF Tasha plays off of Williams incredibly well and adds an extra dimension to their relationship and to the character of Jessica James who’s only grounded and the stable relationship appears to be with Tasha.
There are some high points and low points for me in this film. The high point was when Jessica has a profound conversation with renowned Tony award winning playwright Sarah Jones who plays herself in the film. When Jessica asks “When do you know when you’re gonna make it?” And there is a thoughtful and enlightening discourse where Sarah discusses with Jessica about what theatre means to her. As someone who’s walked up to a mentor expecting some big a-ha moment to happen and instead I’m asked an existential question —I can completely relate to this scene. Again–the relatability in this movie speaks volumes.
The low point in The Incredible Jessica James for me was the lack of closure between Jessica and Damon. I would have liked to have seen Jessica and Damon give it another shot. Nothing about their relationship stood out to me to believe it was too toxic to be rekindled. There are some fantastic moments shared between the exes in this story, and to not get more of that was sorely disappointing.
The central theme of this movie deals with enduring a loss during a breakup, chasing your dreams and finding a budding romance. This film felt very New York and was definitely a love letter to the theater scene in this eccentric city that never sleeps. It’s clear that the writer-director pulled from their own experiences in this story which is what makes this film so organic and refreshing to watch. I would highly recommend this film to anyone interested in a funny, unconventional romantic comedy about trying to get your life and career together while balancing personal and professional relationships. Basically, everyone should see this film.
The Incredible Jessica James is just that. Incredible.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online community for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She's the primary film critic for BGN and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critic Association