The Incredible Jessica James, released last Friday on Netflix, is a relatively standard, relatable, millennial rom-com about a struggling Brooklyn playwright in the midst of a post-breakup quarter-life crisis.
The titular Jessica James idealistically teaches kids theatre and clings on to the hope that some theatre company will put on her work, while pushing into the back of her mind two things: the idea that she might amount only to unfulfilled potential, and intrusive fantasies about her ex who she is trying not to miss. The film has its poignant moments, lessons to teach and a fair fill of laughs but, honestly, it's mostly just a chance to bask in the talent of its lead, Jessica Williams.
If you'd managed to catch any Jessica Williams in her over-too-soon run as a Daily Show correspondent, you probably don't need to read too much more of this blog. If you were a supporter of the campaign for Williams to replace the show's long-time host John Stewart in 2015, you probably don't need to read any of this blog at all.
Somehow still just 28, Williams is now writing and co-hosting the 2 Dope Queens podcast but has yet to have a project that thrust her into the limelight. If there is any justice in this world, this'll be thing that will push her to the stratosphere.
The film might be a quick watch, skipping over a number of plot threads in favour of shining a light on Williams' acting ability, but that's just fine - Williams' unescapable magnetism makes her the only thing you really want to watch in any given scene.
She deftly pulls off the uber-millennial combination of exaggerated self-confidence and eloquent introspection, and Jessica's unholstered brashness - "honesty is pretty much the only thing that matters to me," she says at one point - is a fascinatingly explored trait that has both given her the strength to get to where she is, and yet pushed her from her former partner and left her adrift and unsure of her career trajectory. It could be loathsome, but is safe in Williams' hands, and supported well by the relative meekness of her surrounding cast.
This includes love interest Chris O'Dowd, who is, well, Chris O'Dowd. The charming vulnerability he excels at shines through in playing divorced app inventor Boone, but at no point does O'Dowd risk overshadowing what is rightly Williams' show. There's an excellent and refreshing dynamic to their relationship in that at no point is Jessica enthralled or obsessed by some quixotic, mysterious, dark and brooding guy - Boone really only serves to amplify Jessica's purest, sometimes most frustrating, traits.
If there's one thing I didn't like about The Incredible Jessica James, it's that there's not more of it. It's a brisk 1hr 20mins, with themes and scenes which could have been better or more deeply explored in a six-episode or so series. Jessica's distant relationship with her parents and heavily pregnant little sister back in Ohio, her nurturing of her multi-racial bunch of theatre kids and indeed the backstory to her break-up with Damon are all parts of Jessica's life worthy of deeper exploration, but you're left filling in many gaps on your own.
The Incredible Jessica James comes at a time where representation of strong, layered BAME characters - particularly women of colour - has hopefully reached an un-ignorable tipping point. It's of note that Jessica's story is not exactly about navigating life while black or overcoming a certain racial inequality, in fact it barely comes up at all.
It's integral, though, to her character. As BuzzFeed's Bim Adewunmi put it: "The character's blackness creates and results in a ripple effect felt throughout the film... Jessica James is not black in isolation."
In short, Jessica James' incredibleness is only possible through Williams' own inherent and formidable incredibleness. Her comedic talent, and unavoidable charisma that made her a Daily Show fan favourite at just 23, deserve a bigger platform. Jessica James should be but a springboard.
At the obligatory 'boy loses girl' moment of the film, Boone desperately tries to tell James how much he likes her. Her response? A dry but true: "Of course you do, everyone does. I'm friggin' dope."
Yeah, Jessica, you are, and it's time everyone knew.Suggest a correction