Child theater teacher and aspiring playwright Jessica James (Jessica Williams) is on the mend from a rough break up when she is set up on a blind date with newly divorced Boone (Chris O’Dowd). A Netflix Original, The Incredible Jessica James clocks in at only eighty-three minutes, though I have to admit I wish it had been a least twenty-thirty minutes longer. Jessica James is sharp and intelligent, unafraid to speak her mind and chase her dreams, despite a wall full of rejection letters. She’s also flawed and insecure, harboring fears that despite her intense love of theater, the theater may not love her back. The important thing is that she never stops trying, even when the frustrations build. She is clearly adored by her workshop of students, and she wants them to see their own talent realized as much as she would like for her own to be.
The only time we really see anything of her past relationship with Damon (Lakeith Stanfield) is when Jessica fantasies or dreams about Damon showing up around her apartment to confess he made a mistake and wants her back. These interactions are usually concluded with Damon meeting some kind of morbidly satisfying end. While these fantasies seem to be cathartic to Jessica, it really only gives us a glimpse into their relationship from Jessica’s point of view, so it’s hard to sympathize with her supposed heartbreak. Not that it really matters, because while Jessica allows herself the occasional daydream about the ex, she never allows the break up to slow her down or turn her into a miserable, sobbing mess. Instead, despite an awkward first date that seems to go nowhere but for the bedroom for a one night stand, Jessica seems open to Boone again when he calls her a few days later.
The always wonderful Chris O’Dowd is charming in a bumbling sort of way as Boone. As a newly divorced man still hung up on his ex-wife, Boone is probably not the most ideal candidate for a rebound relationship, but Williams and O’Dowd play very naturally off one another, sarcastic and witty, finding common ground in being ‘honest’ with each other from the very first date, and perhaps that’s what makes the relationship work so well.
I would have really liked to see more between Boone and Jessica, as their scenes together seemed to be the only time the movie really clicked. The scenes between Jessica and her class, especially with student Shandra (Taliya Whitaker) were sweet and poignant, but her brief visit home for her younger sister’s baby shower felt a bit out of place other than to show us just how different, and progressive, Jessica is from the rest of her family. She calls her mother’s husband by his first name with subtle derision and seems to wish she were anywhere but there, though we never really get to learn why. There are a few scenes of Jessica and her best friend, Tasha (Noël Wells), but that consists mainly of Tasha helping Jessica with her class, or talking about vibrators. I would have really liked to see more of Jessica’s family, maybe how she came to love theater and her burgeoning relationship with Boone. She wrote an entire binder full of plays, but there’s no real acknowledgment of her style or interests other than Boone telling her she’s a ‘very complicated person’ after reading all of her work. But again, the movie was not terribly long and it felt a bit like the filler scenes for a longer movie were kept intact while the more interesting plot points got discarded. Some of it just felt a bit too generic for my tastes.
That being said, I simply adored Jessica Williams in the title role. She shines on screen as Jessica James, confident and strong-willed, but also able to convey a much-needed vulnerability to the character. During the very first scene of Jessica on a Tinder date, I was afraid she might be far too aggressive and unlikable for my taste (and she said drinking was ‘basic AF’… while actually saying “AF”, which made me cringe a little), but that fear was assuaged quickly by Jessica’s bluntness with her bland Tinder date, and Williams’s ability to command the screen. Netflix was a good platform for The Incredible Jessica James, but I do hope to see more of Williams on the big screen as well.