Sundance 2017: 'The Incredible Jessica James' is Light, Optimistic Fun
by Alex Billington
January 28, 2017
After working with Jessica Williams in his 2015 film People, Place, Things, writer/director Jim Strouse (of Grace is Gone, The Winning Season) recruited her for a lead role and wrote an entire film around her. The Incredible Jessica James stars Jessica Williams as a struggling playwright living in New York City, dealing with a break up. Strouse makes light, amusing, charming films that have fun stories based on real situations. The Incredible Jessica James is no exception, and might just be Jim's best film to date. It's full of so much life and passion and love and, most importantly, optimism. In these troubling, tumultuous times, where depression and frustration are all too prevalent, a little bit of refreshing optimism goes a long way.
The Incredible Jessica James also stars Chris O'Dowd as a guy she's introduced to by a mutual friend as a rebound from her past relationship. The relationship aspect of the film isn't very deep, there isn't a great amount of introspection or any major revelations, except to say that we should stop pushing away people that make us happy. Some of the film deals with how we're caught up in our minds, and how emotions (and nostalgia) push us to act a certain way rather than to stay true to what our heart is really telling us. The film also focuses on passion and having a love for what you do, even if it's not exactly successful. In the case of Jessica James, that's being a playwright, but it's also an obvious reference to filmmakers and making films.
More than anything, Jessica Williams shines in this role - proving how capable she is developing a complete character and carrying an entire film as the lead. O'Dowd is also enjoyable. There's a group of kids that are amusing. But beyond that, there aren't many characters in this film that really stand out. Jessica's friend, played by Noël Wells, is charming and fun but her character needed more. Most of the revelations come from the main character's themselves figure things out on their own, not from any discussions with friends. There's another part of the film that revolves around each of them overcoming their past relationships by continually encountering their former partners, but it's still up to them to make steps forward on their own.
What makes The Incredible Jessica James so optimistic is that it doesn't dwell too much on negativity or cynicism. It's light, and fun, and happy, and it will make you smile and laugh while watching it. There's a very passionate side to Jessica James that also really stands out - it doesn't matter how many rejection letters she gets, or how bad things get in her life day by day, she still wakes up every morning and finds something to appreciate. Her performance is so effusive and so charming, which makes a difference. In comparison to some Sundance films, this one isn't as heavily emotional, but it's just as entertaining as the best films at this fest. This is why I continue to be a fan of Jim Strouse and his films - they make me happy.
Alex's Sundance 2017 Rating: 8 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing