“This is your one and only life, what do you want to tell people about it”?
This is a question the eponymous protagonist of Netflix’s original film, The Incredible Jessica James poses to her students and a question she seeks to answer for herself.
When we’re introduced to Jessica James (Jessica Williams/The Daily Show, People Places Things), a New York transplant from Ohio, she’s on a Tinder date trying to make her ex-boyfriend Damon (La Keith Stanfield/Atlanta, Get Out) jealous. Less than five minutes into the film and it’s clear that Jessica is quirky, funny, and not afraid to be embarrassed. Jessica is a playwright in her mid-twenties and she has a wall where her rejection letters are taped. Despite these rejections, Jessica continues to send out her work. Before she hits it big, Jessica moonlights as a catering waiter with her best friend, Tasha (Noël Wells/Master of None, Saturday Night Live) an actress and barista. During the day Jessica teaches at a non-profit children’s theatre.
Throughout the film Jessica daydreams of various scenarios with Damon, which increasingly place his life in danger in absurd and imaginative ways. In order to provide Jessica a little diversion from Damon, Tasha suggests that Jessica go out on a date with Boone, (Chris O’Dowd/Bridesmaids, Moone Boy) Tasha’s acquaintance. Boone and Jessica’s first date is open and honest. Although the pair don’t appear to have much chemistry, after Boone lets Jessica know that he’s good at providing oral pleasure, she’s good to go. Boone is recently divorced and his routine includes stalking his ex-wife and her new beau. Boone even calls Jessica to ask her out on a date during one of his expeditions out to his ex’s house.
When the two meet for another date, Jessica and Boone tell each other about their exes. As a way to help each other get over their not-so-old loves, Boone and Jessica promise to unfollow their respective exes on social media. But of course they still want to know what their exes are up to, so Jessica and Boone follow the other’s ex and keep each other informed.
A large part of the film centers on Jessica’s work at the children’s theatre. Her students are interested and engaged in the work. One of her brightest students is Shandra (Taliyah Whitaker/ Wallykazam!, the upcoming She’s Gotta Have It). Shandra has a dilemma, should she attend the writers’ workshop weekend or go to Six Flags with her brother and their father who they rarely see? Shandra’s storyline is just as interesting as Jessica and Boone’s potential romance because she’s authentic and relatable.
The other relatable aspect of the film comes with Jessica and Tasha, who are both millennials. Their attitudes towards dating, sex, and life in general could have been written in the typical bash the millennials manner, but neither character is written as a caricature. There is nuance and complexity to Jessica and all the characters. For instance, during Jessica’s visit home to attend her sister’s bridal shower in Ohio, Jessica juggles between being herself and fitting into her family’s suburban life. Jessica’s family is clearly proud of her, but they don’t understand her artistic sensibilities and views on society. In a particularly hilarious scene, Jessica gives her pregnant sister a book she wrote and illustrated. The book is a ‘baby’s first book’ on dismantling patriarchy.
This authenticity also extends to Boone and Jessica’s relationship. In one scene, the pair goes skating and have the obligatory moment where they both fumble and fall. In a more traditional rom-com the characters would proceed to kiss and fawn over each other, but this is not a traditional rom-com. Instead the two fall awkwardly and try to not injure themselves too badly.
Although the film is short, there are a number of questions that receive some form of resolution by the end:
Will Jessica and Boone keep seeing each other?
Why did Jessica and Damon break up?
Does Shandra write her play?
Will Jessica’s plays finally receive recognition?
Even the ending, which won’t be spoiled here, feels romantic, real, and true to the characters.
The Incredible Jessica James
"The Incredible Jessica James"
Director and Screenwriter: Jim Strouse |Cinematography: Sean McElwee| Starring: Jessica Williams, Chris O’Dowd, Lakeith Stanfield, Noël Wells, Taliyah Whitaker, and Zabryna Guevara