Review: The Incredible Jessica James

Ever since Lena Dunham’s Girls, there has been a mini-explosion of movies and TV shows about the literal worst twenty-something women (or girls?), and I still can’t figure out how I feel about this. Girls is one of my favorite shows ever, but I’m not entirely sure why. It’s partly because of Adam Driver; he is undeniably amazing in this show and in most things, but there is something about his strange features, distinct voice and overall awkwardness that is completely irresistible to me. But I guess as a twenty-something girl who is still figuring things out, I’m glad to see people on television going through similar struggles but failing a lot more in life. And it’s also just damn funny, hip, and at times poignant. Other shows/movies included in this mini-explosion are Broad City, Insecure and anything with Amy Schumer. In all of these cases, new voices in comedy have emerged—female, distinctly hipster, kinda awful, super messy and in some cases nonwhite —and it is often difficult to determine whether these voices are a detriment to female empowerment or uplift us by offering a different perspective. Whatever the case, this mini-explosion is here, and with Insecure enjoying a fantastic second season, Broad City about to enter its third season and the new Netflix film The Incredible Jessica James, this mini-explosion might become a maxi-explosion.

It’s clear that The Incredible Jessica James is part of this canon from the first scene, in which our titular character, played by the always dope Jessica Williams, is being an awful person on a date. She is rude AF, telling her date that she just set this up because she wanted to make her ex jealous. And when her ex arrives with a new boo, she is less than cool—she is a rude-ass mess. But the film was actually smart in including this as the first scene. For those already indoctrinated into the hipster/messy girl canon, it was as funny as it was cringe-inducing. I feared that she would be this level of awful throughout the entire film, but Jessica Williams can’t help but be cool and charming; we see her do plenty of obnoxious, messy things, but she is a committed teacher in a theater program for underprivileged youth, and considering her position as the black sheep of her family, her inability to get any of her plays accepted and her break-up with her long-time boyfriend, her messiness makes some sense. Oh, by the way, this film takes place in Bushwick, the most obnoxiously hipster of places.

The movie centers around Jessica James’ budding relationship with Boone, played by Chris O’Dowd. Yes, you read that right, Jessica Williams and Chris O’Dowd: two very awesome people who nobody in the world would imagine together. And the movie positions them as two people who have nothing in common—except that they both went through breakups. Sounds healthy, right? Needless to say, the relationship is bumpy, but there is some fun dialogue. Are they a believable couple? Not really, but they are a lovely pair of friends. One of the biggest problems with the film is that there isn’t enough Chris O’Dowd. O’Dowd is often one of the best parts of whatever he’s in—unless he’s alongside Richard Ayoade and Noel Fielding, and then he has no chance of stealing the show—and that is certainly the case when he watches his ex-wife from a window and knocks over a bunch of trashcans and humiliates himself cursing at her current boyfriend. Once again, as funny as it is cringe-inducing.

I should probably admit that I watched this film the day after I saw Netflix’s movie adaptation of Death Note, which is one of the worst things to ever happen (Stephanie was far too nice in her review, but it is still a great read). My review might be a little too nice considering that just about anything would look great after watching that, but it did probably make me more critical of Lakeith Stanfield’s performance as Jessica’s ex, Damon. As L in Death Note, he was awkward and boring. Making a character as amazingly bizarre and captivating as L from the original animated Death Note into a boring-ass bitch is baffling to me, but since there were so many other problems with the film, I blamed it as much on the script and the director as the actor.

But Stanfield just doesn’t have that excuse in this film. He’s doing plenty of fun things in this far more competent film: he has adorable small talk with Jessica and appears in several of her dream sequences, walking his dog or climbing to her window or getting killed by a piano. These should be great moments in the movie. The small talk in bed is something just about anyone who has ever been in a relationship can relate to. And maybe I’m just a weirdo ex-girlfriend, but I definitely imagined bizarre scenarios in which my ex begged me to take him back or was forced to leave the planet forever for some inexplicable reason. These scenes could have been not only funny but also a realistic look into our irrational minds after a break-up, but they fall short because he is just. . .boring. Jessica and Boone aren’t a believable couple, but they certainly have more chemistry than Jessica and Damon, who appears to be the same age and has similar interests. Maybe he’s like Dane DeHaan and is awful in some things but great in others—he was fine in Get Out, after all—but in this movie, he is one of its bigger shortcomings.

Overall, the film is fine. I look forward to seeing Jessica Williams write, direct and star in her own film (I should mention that unlike most pieces from the hipster/messy girl canon, this film is written and directed by a man.). Based on her performance in this and her always hilarious work on The Daily Show, she has an exciting presence and voice that could make a better contribution to the hipster/messy girl genre than this. Having said that, it was an overall enjoyable little flick that was worth an hour and twenty-something minutes of my life.

Cake rating: OMG life is so hard; I’m twenty-something, single, and I spent all my money buying cheap-looking crap so I could keep up my hipster lifestyle. Give me all the lattes and local, organic cakes, now!

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