This month is already affectionately (or not-so-affectionately) known as Anxiety August, which is like a less chill version of Blog Free. Welcome to our paradise.
The Incredible Jessica James
Where to Watch:
Jessica Williams is…more or less a version of herself navigating personal crises and keeping her dreams of becoming a playwright alive.
Nothing seems to be going right in any part of Jessica James’s life, personal or professional. Having just broken up with her long-term boyfriend and facing rejection after rejection as a budding playwright, JJ is pretty much done on all fronts.
I feel you, JJ. The one bright light seems to be that her bff Tasha has got her back, plus her job teaching kids theater at a non-profit isn’t too shabby. However, this is far from the life she envisions for herself.
Even though dating is gross, JJ agrees to go along on a date Tasha sets up. The date is with a 30-ish man (yeah, right) who is recently divorced and dubiously named Boone, so I guess it follows that they both need a rebound relationship in the logic of all rom-coms. They don’t seem destined for each other as he has no interest in theater and she can only think about the ways in which he’s completely unlike her ex.
After deciding to go their separate ways, JJ ends up spending the night in his apartment and then moves on.
Meanwhile, she’s determined to convince one of her most talented students, Shandra, to attend an upcoming writer’s weekend. They have a bit of a falling out because Shandra would rather spend time with her dad during their weekend together, something JJ doesn’t have a whole lot of understanding for.
As it turns out, JJ is un-enthused at the prospect of returning home to Ohio for her sister’s baby shower. She doesn’t have the best relationship with her family as the big city girl who left to pursue her dreams rather than settle down. As a small act of rebellion, she writes a book about subverting the patriarchy, which is less than thrilling to the other ladies at the shower. She also does a perfect imitation of a pretentious film student and is super rude about what true theater is when one of the guests asks her which show she should see in New York. We get a little bit more family backstory eventually, but not to a degree that seems particularly satisfying. I’m not going to deny that family relationships are hard, but if you’re going to make a film about it, you need better character motivations.
After returning to New York, JJ breathes a sigh of relief. She’s clearly still not over her ex, continuing to write scenes in which she confronts him about their relationship and he begs for another chance…only to be crushed by falling pianos, etc. Both JJ and Boone help each other get over their exes by taking important steps like unfollowing them on Instagram…then giving each other updates on the other’s ex. JJ seems to finally catch a break personally and professionally, with things all coming together—until of course they aren’t. Will things turn around for the incredible Jessica James?
Don’t get me wrong—Jessica Williams is great in this, but somewhat underutilized. There are moments when her natural charm and humor shine through (like when she shames a manspreader on a subway car), but her character seems to be written as a less interesting version of the real JW.
The times when real emotional depth is attempted fall flat, and the scenes with her family just unintentionally make her seem self-centered. Their family drama seems so…normal, and there’s no clear reason for the rift between JJ and her family.
Ok, AND I’m probably super biased here, but JJ slags off Ohio, which I can only deal with coming from actual Ohioans. Have a disproportionate number of serial killers hailed from Ohio? Are we the state people only care about during presidential election years? Is it somewhat disheartening that we’re incredibly proud our rivers no longer catch on fire? Yes, yes, and yes—but, like family, it’s our dysfunctional mess.
I loved the scenes between JJ and her best friend, however few and far between they were. I would’ve really liked that to be the central focus of this film rather than her attempts to get over her ex and the development of her relationship with Chris O’Dowd. Can we be real for a second? She and Chris O’Dowd have ZERO chemistry. ZERO. And I didn’t believe him as 30-ish for a minute.
Spoiler-ish (but not really because this is a light-hearted rom-com that doesn’t pull any punches): the ending pissed me off because everything came together so neatly in a way that didn’t feel earned. And Boone makes a romantic gesture that would personally make me really uncomfortable and wonder what he really wanted from me. To wear my skin Buffalo Bill-style?
No? Have I just become the world’s most cynical living human?