The Incredible Jessica James tells the story of aspiring playwright Jessica James (Jessica Williams) as she tries to make it in the competitive New York City theater scene while simultaneously dealing with the aftermath of breaking off a long-term relationship. To get her out of her funk, a well-meaning friend sets Jessica up with recently-divorced Boone (Chris O’Dowd). Despite the awkward start and unlikely pairing, the two find comfort in each other and help dealing with simple things like whether to unfollow their exes on social media. Turns out, they actually like each other a lot.
From a genre standpoint, this is a romantic comedy, although it focuses less on the romance than the main character. Throughout the film, the tone remains light-hearted and most of the revelations come from Jessica simply moving about her normal life, at work in the children’s theater program, visiting her family in Ohio, and going out in New York. What makes it worth seeing, even if you’re not typically into rom-coms, are the performances, particularly that of Jessica Williams who proves she has what it takes to carry a film. Regardless of whether or not you’re familiar with the former The Daily Show star and co-host of 2 Dope Queens podcast, this movie will make you fall in love with Williams. Her quirky, unapologetically honest, and hilarious performance is one you can’t help like because she (and her character) knows how dope she is.
It’s little wonder she fits into the role so well though since writer/director Jim Strouse wrote the film specifically for her after working with her previously on People Places Things. “I knew I wanted to write something for her when one morning she just belched so loudly during one of our discussions and then continued on like nothing happened,” said Strouse during a post-screening Q&A. “And what I thought was: I just LOVE her.” Much of who Jessica James is in the movie is tailored from Williams, who Strouse watched intensely, so he could create a 20-something, black female character that feels real. Incidentally, while Williams was able to give input into her character during the writing and production phases of the film, she didn’t watch a cut of the film until it premiered at the festival because in the midst of post-production, Trump was elected and she (like so many others) became so depressed she didn’t want to do anything. Strouse, of course, preferred for her to watch the film while she was “happy.”
We’re definitely happy we caught the movie during the closing days of the festival, but even if you didn’t have the chance, it won’t be long before you can see The Incredible Jessica James for yourself. Ahead of its premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Netflix acquired the rights and is expected to release it on the streaming service later this year.