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Sundance London 2017: The Incredible Jessica James



Released: 2017

Directed By: Jim Strouse

Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Noël Wells, Chris O’Dowd

Reviewed By: Hannah Woodhead

When you call your film ‘The Incredible Jessica James’, you’re setting yourself some fairly high standards. Whether the title is ironic or not doesn’t really matter – director/writer Jim Strouse (best known for People Places Things) immediately commands your attention with a not-so humblebrag, and ensures all eyes are firmly on Jessica Williams in her first leading film role.

And y’know what? She really is pretty incredible.

Right from the film’s awkward, high energy, hilarious opening, The Incredible Jessica James sets itself up as the most honest romantic comedy in years – a film that doesn’t sugar-coat the realities of being a millennial trying to awkwardly navigate the choppy waters of both dating and career progression. As the titular character, Jessica Williams is completely brilliant. As well as being witty and charming, she’s also delightfully three-dimensional – a fully-realised character with faults and flaws. She’s a complete breath of fresh air, and exactly what Hollywood needs. There should be a hundred petitions to cast her as the female lead in everything from now on. That’s how brilliant she is.

She’s joined on-screen by an equally brilliant supporting cast in the form of Chris O’Dowd, Noel Wells and Lakeith Stanfield. Stanfield plays Jessica’s ex-boyfriend Damon and Wells plays her best friend Tasha, whilst O’Dowd is Boone, a divorcee Jessica meets whilst in a difficult place after her break-up from Damon. Another standout is Taliyah Whitaker as Jessica’s student Shandra, who previously played a young Crazy Eyes on Orange is the New Black. She shows maturity way beyond her years, and is definitely one to watch.

What’s truly refreshing about The Incredible Jessica James though, is that it’s very much a woman’s story – the men are secondary characters, and nothing is off-limits. It’s rare to find a film that’s so open and honest, let alone one that manages to capture so brilliantly what it’s like to be a young woman in the present day trying to get ahead at work and find a boyfriend who isn’t an arsehole. It’s also important to see a black woman at the centre of a rom-com that doesn’t make reference to her race once – she’s just a wickedly funny and smart woman in charge of her own destiny. Although it might be aimed at women, Williams is compelling enough to keep any audience entertained, and the plot never becomes sentimental or schmaltzy. The Incredible Jessica James is a brilliant, incredibly funny film about owning your flaws and self-acceptance, and essential viewing for any young person who’s ever felt like the world isn’t on their side.

Journalist who spends most of her time professing her love for Oscar Isaac and Jeff Goldblum. The female version of Jay Sherman.

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