It’s no secret that Jessica Williams is talented, as evidenced by her work as a former correspondent on The Daily Show and as the cohost of the podcast 2 Dope Queens. But with The Incredible Jessica James, Netflix’s sweet, quick-witted rom-com about an unlucky-in-love Brooklyn playwright, Williams definitively proves that she’s a star.
Writer-director Jim Strouse wrote the film for Williams, and even though this is her leading lady debut, it’s almost impossible to imagine any other actress or comedian bringing as much wit and charm to the title role. An aspiring playwright who spends her days teaching children’s theater workshops, Jessica James is fiercely funny, messy, smart, and confident—dancing her way through New York like a hurricane in a kickass jumpsuit. She’s still reeling from a recent breakup with her boyfriend (Lakeith Stanfield of Get Out and Atlanta) while trying to figure out how to advance her writing career—or whether she even wants to continue trying. Before long, her friend Tasha (Master of None’s Noël Wells) sets her up with the recently divorced Boone (Chris O’Dowd), and together, they embark on a cautious but sweet romance.
Film and television are overrun with stories about young creative people trying to find themselves in New York and learn how to navigate life/love/etc., but Williams imbues her character with a liveliness and a confidence that sets her apart. (When Boone tells her that he thinks he likes her, Jessica replies, “Of course you do. Everybody does. I’m friggin’ dope.”) But although Williams shines bright, the rom-com plot is a little more standard. O’Dowd is a mopey charmer as Boone, and although the romance is sweet, it’s predictably conventional.
But as a star vehicle for Williams, Jessica James is a home run. Even when the film falls into indie clichés, Williams keeps things moving with her cleverness and charisma, whether she’s chastising manspreaders on the subway or introducing an as-yet-unborn baby to the fight to dismantle the patriarchy. In short, it’s a performance that’s smart, funny, and above all, incredible. B+