Frances Ha fans, listen up. A new twenty-something struggling creative is in town, and she has a lot to say. As does writer-director Jim Strouse, whose brainchild Jessica James is an absolute joy to spend time with. The incredibly funny screenplay is so good you regret only half-hearing lines when you’re still busy laughing at the last one.
The pulsing energy of The Incredible Jessica James owes as much to lead actress Jessica Williams as to her director. Her supreme talent is evident from the attention-grabbing to-camera opening, and she’s just as skilled at reacting to her costars as she is capable of carrying the film. She can draw a laugh with just an expressive flicker of her eyebrows.
Jessica James has style and personality in spades. Strouse employs potentially gimmicky techniques like split screens, yet imbues his characters and narrative with staggering depth and nuance. Jessica is a triumph of characterisation – ballsy, frank and unapologetically herself, yet simultaneously as aware of her shortcomings as her strengths. Similarly, Strouse isn’t afraid to mock the millennials he presents, so Jessica James comes across as more clear-eyed and less self-indulgent than the likes of Girls. Another obvious and inevitable comparison is Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behaviour, yet Strouse approaches similar hot topics of sexuality and family expectation with more subtlety, while offering better opportunities for the supporting cast. Man of the moment Lakeith Stanfield shows off his well-established comedy chops, but Chris O’Dowd’s character and performance are a little too reminiscent of Bridesmaids.
The Incredible Jessica James is the NYC millennial movie you didn’t know you needed. Astute, hilarious, and with an open-endedness that rings true to life, Strouse has gifted us wisdom and one hell of a leading lady in Williams. Let’s make her the next Greta Gerwig. She’s friggin’ dope.
CAST: Jessica Williams, Lakeith Stanfield, Noël Wells, Chris O’Dowd
DIRECTOR: Jim Strouse
WRITER: Jim Strouse
SYNOPSIS: An aspiring playwright in New York strikes up a friendship with a guy while on the rebound from a breakup.