Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Incredible Jessica James: Movie Review


Not as incredible as she thinks she is.
The Incredible Jessica James is only partly a misnomer. The title Jessica (played by The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams) thinks of herself as incredible. She also likes to use many other adjectives to describe how wonderful she is, but it doesn’t take long before the audience just finds her annoying and incredibly insufferable. Oddly the movie around her is mostly non-descript. An unremarkable comedy-drama mixing together a little quarter-life crisis with a romantic comedy. 2017

Directed by: James C. Strouse

Screenplay by: James C. Strouse

Starring: Jessica Williams, Chris O'Dowd

Jessica Williams in The Incredible Jessica James.
Perhaps the most notable positive aspect of this film is that it easily passes the Bechdel test (for representation of women), the Vito Russo test (for LGBTQ representation) and the DuVernay test (for racial diversity). It effortlessly does so without being extraordinary. The film gives its characters identities that aren’t hinging on their gender or race or sexual orientations. Larger movies should take note at how easily inclusion can be accomplished. This inclusion does make The Incredible Jessica James a bit more universal in its appeal, but it’s still missing a more engaging element.

Chris O'Dowd and Jessica Williams in The Incredible Jessica James.
Jessica is a playwright, an unsuccessful one who reads every rejection notice very carefully hoping for something positive to take away from it. She’s also recently been dumped by her boyfriend of two years and has gone insane (or she has always been insane) while she subjects harmless men to horrible first dates. There are two main aspects to the film: One half has Jessica working as a teacher for young children who are future playwrights – can you guess that as she teaches the children she ends up teaching herself too? Yeah, that was very not subtle. The other half shows Jessica as she struggles to form a compatible relationship with a recent set-up Boon (Chris O’Dowd). But the two halves are joined together with Jessica constantly telling everybody that she is smarter than they are. Boon is more damaged from his recent divorce than Jessica is, and he would have to be, otherwise he is unlikely to fall for her incessant self-involved narcissism.

Lakeith Stanfield and Jessica Williams in The Incredible Jessica James.
Production stills courtesy of Netflix.
The other positive aspect of the film is Lakeith Stanfield as Jessica’s ex-boyfriend Damon. Stanfield was the break-out star of Short Term 12 who never actually broke-out. Hopefully this funny, and very different character, will help him reach a more deserving audience. The fascinating part of Stanfield’s performance is that most of the time Damon doesn’t appear as a real character, but imagined by Jessica. He is the real Damon in his opening and final scenes, and he successfully bridges a character from how he actually is, compared to how the main character imagines him.

Other than Jessica’s love for herself and intellectual superiority, there isn’t anything obnoxiously bad about The Incredible Jessica James, but that also means there is nothing to save itself from the lead character, who isn’t as incredible as she thinks she is.