Starring: Jessica Williams, Chris O’Dowd, Lakeith Stanfield
Director: Jim Strouse
Running Time: 83 mins
The Incredible Jessica James is an American film about an aspiring playwright who develops a friendhsip with a man after her own break-up.
Although this film isn’t all that generic in the scope of your typical romantic comedy, and has a decent balance between comedy and drama throughout, it unfortunately falls down due to one simple feature: the main character. With a very unlikable central personality (despite a decent performance from Jessica Williams), and a screenplay with a pretty vague perspective on her behaviour, it’s very difficult to come round to like anything about this film, ultimately proving a far more irritating watch than the charming quirkiness it wants to flaunt so much.
But before we get into that, let’s look on the positive side, firstly with the fact that the film does pretty well to avoid the worst tropes of the romantic comedy genre, and provide a fairly engaging watch throughout. It’s not a story that will have you fully engrossed in any of the characters, but the great thing is that it never goes so far as to pull in unoriginal genre tropes to save a less-than-stellar story, always pushing on with something a little different, and that’s pretty admirable to see.
Also, it’s not really a drag. Despite its failings in developing convincing or even likable characters, the film does manage to balance its comedic and dramatic side pretty well throughout, and manages to keep things on the comedic front as genuine and human as possible, something that comes through very well in the on screen performances and chemistry between Jessica Williams and Chris O’Dowd, while the drama is decent enough to remain moderately engaging throughout, effectively interspersed with good light-hearted breaks.
That’s not to say the film is a properly funny one, because it’s not really there to make you laugh out loud, but what it does do well is manage itself when it comes to being a proper drama, and uses humour well to keep things light, and as such more enjoyable than it could have been.
Unfortunately, all of those positives do fall into the shadows when it comes to the film’s glaring flaw right in the middle: the supposedly ‘incredible’ Jessica James. I’ll stress that the issues with the central character aren’t really anything to do with Williams’ performance, but it’s the personality that’s written for her, and the atmosphere surrounding her in the rest of the story, that really lets the film down as a whole.
Firstly, it’s clear that the film wants to show Jessica James as a strong-willed, independent young woman with forward-thinking ideals, and yet still doesn’t have everything about her life as together as she’d like. Now, a strong and confident central character is fair enough, but this screenplay unfortunately goes too far in that regard, and she becomes a downright aggressive and genuinely unpleasant person at times.
There’s a big difference between being a quirky outsider with ambitions that others don’t understand and just being cold and unpleasant to others, and unfortunately Jessica James is far closer to the latter than she should be, making coming round to her side when she’s going through various difficulties very hard.
However, what’s worse is the fact that the film as a whole doesn’t seem to want her to change and become a better person. If there is character development here, Jessica James becomes a more worldly and wise character, but nothing about her rather unpleasant personality really changes from start to finish.
What’s even stranger is that the film seems to know that she’s cold and a little aggressive, and yet chooses to do nothing about it. There’s one sequence in which she returns to her family in Ohio, disgusted by the fact that she has to hang around with boring countryside folk in comparison to her modern NYC lifestyle, and constantly preaching her amazing ideas and beliefs, shoving them in the faces of her perfectly harmless and pleasant family.
And yet, despite being shown as clearly ungrateful and uncaring in that sequence, the screenplay doesn’t really act on it, and allows her to continue behaving in such a way for the remainder of the story, something that really struck me as a wrong move, given that it just made it harder and harder for me to understand exactly where the film’s persepective on this woman lies, and made for a very frustrating watch.
Overall, The Incredible Jessica James isn’t a bad film, and with decent acting, a non-generic story, and good humour, it can be enjoyable, but it all falls down due to its central focus, a very unlikable and inconsistent central character that’s by no means ‘incredible’ like the title suggests, and that’s why I’m giving this a 6.8.