The Incredible Jessica James
dir-scr James C Strouse
prd Michael B Clark, Alex Turtletaub
with Jessica Williams, Chris O'Dowd, Lakeith Stanfield, Noel Wells, Taliyah Whitaker, Zabryna Guevara, Susan Heyward, Evander Duck Jr, Megan Ketch, Eric Loscheider, Anne Carney, Collin Smith
release UK Jun.17 sffl, US 28.Jul.17
17/US Netflix 1h25
The Incredible Jessica James
Sorting it out: Williams

odowd stanfield
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Incredible Jessica James With a perceptive script and a wonderfully nuanced lead performance from Jessica Williams, this comedy has a lot of very honest things to say about the difficult choices we make relating to both relationships and careers. And while the film has moments of pointed intensity, nothing is ever laid on thickly. Instead, writer-director James Strouse keeps the audience laughing at the witty dialog and surprising characters all the way through.

In New York, Jessica (Williams) runs a theatre programme for children, teaching them how to write and produce their own plays. It's about the only way she can work in the theatre, as she tries to launch her own career as a playwright. But her biggest problem right now is that she can't get over her breakup with Damon (Stanfield). Then her best friend Tasha (Wells) sets her up with Boone (O'Dowd), who is still stinging from his own divorce. And they vow to be brutally honest with each other from the start.

This may sound like the set-up for a rather standard romantic-comedy, but while that structure is buried in here somewhere, the film is much more centred on Jessica and her personal journey. This involves returning to her Ohio home to find some insight into her family, her background and why she needed to get out of there. And she also has a journey to take with one of her young students (Whitaker), who has home-life issues of her own.

Williams makes Jessica utterly magnetic right from the start, beautifully balancing the comedy and emotion. Outspoken and fiercely quick-witted, she charms most people she meets and doesn't waste any time dismissing those who cross her. Williams also conveys Jessica's boundless imagination in the way she approaches each conversation, including some sharp fantasy/dream sequences that Strouse uses to get the audience even further inside her head. Most impressive is that this is a woman whose flaws never diminish her strengths.

The supporting cast does just what they're supposed to do: provide a springboard for Williams. Each actor also creates a layered character, adding textures to the film that are both amusing and pointed. And there are quite a few barbed points along the way, as the script explores the deep insecurities we all hide behind our hopefully well-assembled exteriors. Especially resonant are the observations about ambition, and that by embracing your deepest desire you are already living your dream.

cert 15 themes, language 2.Jun.17

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