The Incredible Jessica James (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): Thoroughly sassy Jessica

Netflix film “The Incredible Jessica James”, which I belatedly watched it along with other Netflix film “The 40-Year-Old Version” (2020), is funny and charming for the lively and endearing comic persona of its lead actress. Yes, this is surely another typical story of a struggling New Yorker artist, but the movie is buoyed by its lead actress’ spunky performance to considerable degree, and you may find yourself rooting for her character as often amused by a number of sweet and funny moments in the film.

Jessica Williams, who has not gotten opportunities to demonstrate more of her talent yet even at this point, plays Jessica James, a young African American female playwright who has unsuccessfully pursued her aspiration for several years since she moved from her hometown in Ohio to New York City. As reflected by one brief shot showing one wall of her small residence in Brooklyn, she has tried numerous times for drawing the attention of those local theater companies, but there have been only countless incidents of rejection, and she has to be only content with earning her meager living via teaching elementary school kids at a local children’s theater workshop.

Moreover, Jessica turns out to be going through a certain emotional difficulty at present. During the opening scene, she meets some guy at a local bar via a dating digital application, but their conversation does not go that well because of her rather aggressive attitude which barely hides her true motive behind this meeting. As a matter of fact, she recently had a breakup with her boyfriend Damon (Lakeith Stanfield), and she chose to have this date simply because she wants to pretend in front of Damon that she is quite ready to move onto whoever will come into her life after him.

Not long after miserably reminded again that she has not still totally gotten over her breakup with Damon, Jessica is recommended by her best friend Tasha (Noël Wells) to meet a guy whom Tasha recently encountered at some group meeting. Although she is not so eager at first, Jessica eventually agrees to meet that guy, and, what do you know, they find themselves feeling something mutual developing between them. At first, both Jessica and Boone (Chris O’Dowd) frankly tell each other that they are not so interested in moving onto the next possible step for them, but then they come to spend more time with each other as they talk and talk, and then Jessica ends up sleeping with him at his residence, though she insists to Tasha that nothing much happened between him and her at that night.

Anyway, Boone also has still not gotten over the end of his previous relationship, so he and Jessica come upon a good idea which may help both of them. While Boone follows the Instagram account of her ex-boyfriend instead of her, Jessica follows his ex-wife’s instead of him, and they promise to each other that they will instantly notify each other on any significant activity from her ex-boyfriend or his ex-wife.

This is certainly a familiar set-up for romantic relationship, but the screenplay by director/writer James C. Strouse does not try to push this part too hard as focusing more on its heroine’s growing doubt and frustration on her artistic career. While it looks like she finally advances a bit, Jessica feels more uncertain about where her life and career are going, and she cannot help but try too hard to stick to her principles. In a subplot involved with one of her young students from whom she sees a lot of herself in the past, she unintentionally comes to hurt that student’s feeling while forcefully attempting to inspire that student more, and that consequently puts considerable distance between her and that student.

The movie also takes a brief detour for showing more of Jessica’s life history. When she visits her hometown for attending her younger sister’s baby shower, she is wholeheartedly welcomed by her mother and stepfather, but she still feels like an oddball during her younger sister’s baby shower, and that leads to an amusingly awkward moment when she comes to blurt out some blatant feminist comments, which incidentally make others around her a little uncomfortable.

During its third act, the movie takes a few predictable plot turns as expected, and it accordingly comes to lose some of its comic momentum, but Williams’ commendable performance still holds it well. Even when her character becomes quite abrasive from time to time, Williams effortlessly exudes her natural spirit and charm, and we come to accept many of Jessica’s human flaws while frequently impressed by her vibrant life force. During several scenes at the local children’s theater workshop, we can clearly sense how sincere and passionate Jessica is about nurturing her young students’ artistic interest and talent, and Williams and a bunch of young performers are utterly spontaneous in their dynamic interactions on the screen.

In case of the other main cast members in the film, they ably support Williams on the whole. While Chris O’Dowd complements Williams as well as required, Noël Wells has a little juicy fun with her colorful supporting character, and Lakeith Stanfield, who has always been dependable since I came to notice him via his harrowing supporting turn in “Short Term 12” (2013), is also fine in his rather underdeveloped part.

Overall, “The Incredible Jessica James” may not bring anything particularly new to its genre territory, but it modestly succeeds in what it intends to do, and I guarantee you that you will not forget its sassy lead actress after watching it. In my inconsequential opinion, she deserves to be as prominent as Issa Rae or Tiffany Haddish, and I sincerely hope for more advance for her career in the future.

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