“Everybody likes me, I’m friggin’ dope.”
Jessica James (Jessica Williams) is not dealing well with her break-up with Damon (LaKeith Stanfield). Tinder was supposed to be a respite from her relationship woes, but two and a half months has proven that fruitless as well. At her friend’s suggestion, Jessica goes on a blind date with Boone (Chris O’Dowd), who is reeling from his divorce. Jessica and Boone agree to monitor their exes social media feeds for each other — Strangers on a Train stalking, if you will — to keep the blues at bay, while still keeping up on the important things. It’s not necessarily a bold, new idea, yet romantic comedies haven’t quite tapped into the zeitgeist.
The Incredible Jessica James attempts to tackle the modern state of break-ups where you’re not together anymore, but a few flicks of the wrist can keep you up-to-date with every aspect of your ex’s life via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Moving on has never been harder. Jessica would like to move on from her relationship with Damon, but she’s not even sure that’s what she actually wants. Several fantasy interludes, where Jessica tries to write her way into a post-Damon life, provide a fluidness that other indies would try to fill with silent observation. More importantly, The Incredible Jessica James presents a woman that has relationships, though she doesn’t define herself by one.
Beneath the self-assured speeches she gives to the kids at her day job and prospective suitors, Jessica has insecurities, they’re just not the melodramatic problems of a studio “concept” rom-com. Jessica hopes to be a playwright even though she currently has enough rejection letters to cover a wall of her apartment. When she goes back home to rural Ohio, family expectations reveal a deeper melancholy to Jessica. This sort of depth should be more common in romantic comedies.
The film doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t really have to. The conversational tone Jessica James takes is refreshing. Platitudes aren’t forced on Williams and O’Dowd, which allows both comedic actors to just be funny. In contrast with the weekly end-of-the-world scenarios that play out at the cineplex, the stakes here are much smaller. It’s a bit of whiplash going from each extreme, but it’s also quite refreshing to see humans living a life that approximates reality. The Incredible Jessica James resembles more of a pilot than a feature-length film, but Netflix has proven that even small stories also deserve a spotlight.
Fans of The Daily Show and 2 Dope Queens already knew that Jessica Williams was a special talent, but her appearance here is a head’s up to Hollywood that she is ready to lead more comedies. William’s performance is on par with the same turns Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd gave in Bridesmaids that boosted them to stardom. Here’s hoping to see Jessica Williams shine in even more projects in the future.