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The Incredible Jessica James (2017) Review

Non-traditional comedy is led by a terrific lead performance.

The Incredible Jessica James is a 2017 comedy about an aspiring playwright in New York who strikes up a friendship with a guy while on the rebound from a break-up.

Once in awhile something familiar comes along that is wholly transformed by the person bringing it to us, a presence that is so engaging, it’s easy to see past the recognizable. With The Incredible Jessica James, the plot takes a backseat to the sheer dynamic performance of this star in a film that is as every bit an old fashioned-love story as it is an ultra contemporary fairy tale on love, loss, and being real.

Twenty-five-year old Jessica (Jessica Williams) is a struggling playwright in New York City with a wall of rejection letters, making ends meets by teaching a small group of children about the world of theater and being performers. She’s recently out of a long-term relationship with Damon (Lakeith Stanfield) and is still stuck in the reasons why, hung up and unable to really move on. She uses Tinder to meet one night stands but that doesn’t go so well until her best friend Tasha (Noel Wells) sets her up with a divorced man named Boone (Chris O’Dowd), who’s having his own issues over his failed marriage. There’s some sparks between them but Jessica hesitates and puts a lot of her efforts into Shandra (Taliyah Whitaker), one of her students that reminds her of herself.

Written and directed by Jim Strouse, The Incredible Jessica James might sound like a new superhero franchise and while it’s most definitely not, there’s enough joy and warmth in Jessica to make her seem like one. The relationships she has with those in unstable orbit around her are filled with the tropes and clichés of any in the genre and yet that seems entirely the point as Williams and Strouse use them to redefine what it all means. Jessica James is a buoyant character who is both joyful for being alive while vigilant of the ‘system’ she is fighting to avoid, like a force of nature, helped by her imposing physical presence. She is wearing down yet somehow seems resilient to it.

What sells it most is the authenticity of it all with Williams and O’Dowd especially convincing, the two so natural together it almost feels voyeuristic, they agreeing to be entirely honest from the start, which is a wonderfully crafted moment. From there, it allows them to say what they feel and the rawness between them is both very funny and even touching. These are interspersed with other things happening in Jessica’s life, such as her penchant for daydreaming that Damon is remorseful for the breakup, often ending with him getting crushed by a piano or falling off a building. It funny but speaks to much about what is holding her back.

Not all of it works of course as the hyper-realism of the Indie romance angle is something we simply have to swallow yet more weirdly that no matter how invested we become in Jessica, we learn very little about her, the motivations behind her work or even the plays she has written, only that she has no success in getting them made. It’s a minor setback in a story that lives and breathes by Williams who is more than the heart of the story, she is its brains and the very legs it stands on.

The Incredible Jessica James (2017) Review

Movie description: The Incredible Jessica James is a 2017 comedy about an aspiring playwright in New York who strikes up a friendship with a guy while on the rebound from a break-up.

Director(s): Jim Strouse

Actor(s): Lakeith Stanfield, Chris O'Dowd, Noël Wells

Genre: Comedy

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