The Incredible Jessica James is a glorious showcase for Jessica Williams. If you don’t already know who she is, this picture will make you a fan. It’s a smart romantic comedy — not the kind with a big airport gesture, this is more subtle than all of that — that follows an aspiring playwright (Jessica Williams) who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a man (Chris O’Dowd) whilst they are both on the rebound from devastating breakups.
Jessica is a force. We open on her in a furious, solo dance routine that covers the length of her apartment and takes her out into the shared spaces of the building. She pauses to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She whips a piece of folded laundry out of a neighbor’s basket and departs with an awkwardly apologetic shrug. And so, with absolutely no dialogue we get a perfect snapshot of Jessica. She’s a bit messy and uncertain, but she’s vibrant and alive.
A blind date that feels to Jessica more like an obligatory step than an opportunity, introduces Boone. He’s recently divorced and similarly just trying to rip off the proverbial Band-Aid. This exchange more or less sums up their evening together:
Boone: “I don’t really know anything about theater.”
Jessica: “It’s like the only thing I care about.”
All veils lifted, the pair decide just to be honest together, and ultimately that freedom finds them passing more time together. All the while, Jessica is teaching children’s theater and working odd jobs while trying to gain traction on one of her own plays. At one point, she calls her best pal Tasha (Noel Wells) to celebrate a personalized rejection letter — an obvious step up from the dozens of form rejection letters that line one wall of her apartment.
The Incredible Jessica James is packed with sharp observations and brilliant delivery. On several occasions the audience laughed so enthusiastically at one line that the next was lost to me.
Jessica Williams and Chris O’Dowd have a lovely, sparky chemistry that offsets their banter quite nicely. Though Jim Strouse penned the screenplay for Williams, he also left room for his lead and O’Dowd to improvise and adjust on the fly. As a result, the dialogue has a delightful honesty to it. If you’re a 2 Dope Queens listener, you will find yourself able to sense what Williams will say next on more than one occasion. All of this works remarkably well for the picture, which values character and comedy over the romantic trappings that render the world of so many movies in this vein unrecognizable to those of us who live in the real world.
The Incredible Jessica James is joyful viewing that showcases an incredible talent. It’s sweet without sacrificing its grip on reality and it manages to be aggressively charming without toppling into twee territory. Don’t miss this one.