The Incredible Jessica James review: Cocoa queen

Chad White

This is your one and only life. What do you want to tell people about it?

Jessica Williams has had the career of a lifetime and she’s still in her 20’s. Daily Show. 2 Dope Queens. Generally being a capital Q Queen. It’s no wonder her first foray into movies was well received at Sundance. The Incredible Jessica James is a fantastic portrait of a struggling Brooklynite who writes plays and can’t seem to find the right man. There are number of clichés both in dialogue and execution but the movie is wonderfully spirited all around.

Williams stars as the titular Jessica, playwright and unannounced hipster. She has the tendencies of her Bushwick neighbors. There’s a pickle packing plant she likes to visit. She dresses like a closet fell onto her. But it’s all I good fun. Her boyfriend (played by the decent Lakeith Stanfield) leaves her and she’s having trouble finding life without him. Dreams about running into him around the city are prevalent throughout. His life is incrementally improved (he gets a dog or wants to get coffee). These sequences are comical in their endings such as a piano falling from the sky on top of Stanfield. On top of the boy troubles, Jessica is unable to land a fellowship for playwriting. She paints her walls with the rejection letters she receives as a way to motivate her.

While one of those issues can’t be changed by her, the other can. Jessica’s eccentric friends, Tasha (Noel Wells doing the most in a role that’s built for Kate McKinnon), sets her up on a date with Boone (Chris O’Dowd). Most of the problems life within their burgeoning relationship. Jessica complains about not having a man – namely her ex. Yet she won’t accept this perfectly fine new guy in her life. He has his share of trouble too, namely stalking his ex-wife to a laughable degree. Both Jess and Boone manage to work out their relationship woes together only to predictably edge toward each other in the end. It’s charming but predictable.

Williams’s script is good but doesn’t help the short run time. Her style of writing mixed with James C. Strouse’s direction makes for an admittedly unique approach. It feels like an indie movie from start to finish. The intimacy lends to the empathy any viewer can feel towards the characters. But the moments Jessica works with kids, the story comes to a halt. These bits do open her character up to major growth, especially in her backstory. But there’s too on the nose moments with a little girl who – down to the braided hair -- is exactly like Jessica in a way that’s distracting. Something else to check out is Jessica’s tendency to be arrogant to a fault. The script, too, has the same problem. In one scene, she’s talking about "the system" and "gender constructs." Or a line like "I don't have my shit together so we can't be together" is proudly spouted. Then Boone does something to break him an Jessica up. And kid actors are kid actors.

Should you watch Incredible Jessica James?

It’s a fun, short ride to see into the mind of a comedian like Jessica Williams. There’s no reason to skip this movie. While I did enjoy the majority, a lot of the script is cliché.

Notes

  • Fans of Williams will note that her vocabulary translates SO WELL to screen. “Cocoa Queen.” “Basic peen.” I love it.
  • It’s a shame about the clichés. No writer can escape them though.
  • The cameo from the oft discussed Sarah Jones should’ve been expected. Boy am I dumb.
  • I gather Chris O’Dowd was playing someone in their early 30’s. His face did not allow that. (Sorry Chris! I love you, my man!).
  • The scenes with the kids may have slowed things down but Jessica’s trip home brought everything to a stop. What did she learn? That everyone was in love but her?
  • I did adore the brutally honest first date. Real life should be like that. “How are you expecting tonight to go?” A nice dinner and “making out” is all I want.