This past Tuesday night, the William Vale (111 N 12th St) hosted a screening of the fantastic new Netflix comedy The Incredible Jessica James. The event was hosted by Rooftop Films, a non-profit founded in 1997, dedicated to exposing people to new films and assisting up and coming filmmakers to produce new work.
The film stars Jessica Williams as the titular Jessica James, a young playwright in her mid 20’s navigating her emotions after a recent breakup, while keeping her spirits up amidst a slew of rejection letters from theater companies. The film follows her as she learns lessons about herself through her relationship with Boon (played by Chris O’Dowd), a recent divorcé with whom she shares a budding romance, and her students at a children’s theater company. As so many people do in their mid-20’s in New York, she starts out with a very idealistic view of where she wants to be romantically, professionally and personally, and throughout the course of the movie discovers that she is actually right where she wants to be.
Director Jim Strouse, who previously worked with Williams on his film People, Places, Things, said he wrote the part just for her in an interview with the cast after the screening. A huge fan of Williams’ work on The Daily Show and her hilarious podcast Two Dope Queens, Strouse let Williams improvise in several of the film’s scenes. Because of this, the character of Jessica James seems remarkably well fleshed out, as if the viewer is getting dropped into the middle of someone’s actual life.
The film’s other notable star is young Taliyah Whitaker, who plays Shandra, one of Jessica’s students in her theater class. In her, Jessica sees herself, and lashes out at Shandra’s resistance to give herself into playwriting, which almost costs her their relationship. Throughout the film, Shandra opens to the idea that theater and writing can help someone through a difficult period in their life, as it is revealed that her parents are in the midst of a difficult custody battle for her and her brother.
The filming locations also help the story take shape. Filmed entirely on location in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bushwick and parts of Manhattan, the city is portrayed as real as the characters, helping to bring Jessica’s frustration to life. Her struggle would resonate with any young person who has yet to really find their stride in the big city. Her ultimate revelation of being happy with doing what she is doing is a simple but profound message that lands with comforting truth, a rare find in a romantic comedy.
The Incredible Jessica James comes out today (July 28th) on Netflix and stars Jessica Williams, Chris O’Dowd, Taliyah Whitaker, LaKeith Stanfield, and Noël Wells.