“The Incredible Jessica James” is the very definition of “Netflixable.”
It’s movie of undeniable charms, some witty moments and nice chemistry between its stars. But it’s got too little to it to warrant traveling to a cinema and buying a ticket to see.
It’s blessedly brief, but its set-up and situations are sitcom slight. It plays like a TV pilot, with filler that some network exec will need reassurance that “We’ll cut all that out” or “That’ll resolve itself as we get up and running.”
“Daily Show” alumna Jessica Williams has the title role, one of those go-getter New York wannabes who carries herself as if she expects credit for mastering the city.
She’s tall, outspoken and brutally blunt. She works those Eryka Badu dreads and fixes her Tinder date with a stare and lets him know that the sexual come-on he voiced on that hook-up app isn’t “going to happen.”
The hapless nebbish is fileted before he has a chance to finish his drink.
“Going through a really bad break-up” is her excuse.
When she isn’t running into her ex (Lakeith Stanfield, “Snoop” in “Straight Outta Compton”), she’s dreaming about him — nightmares where he’s killed, or some such.
So she throws herself into her work teaching kids at the Children’s Theatre Project, writes plays, and decorates her Bushwick flat with rejection letters from theaters that won’t produce her works, which she brushes off with the arrogant self-confidence you have to have in order to make a go of it in the arts.
“I’m a cocoa QUEEN,” she exults. “I’m standing on my own truth! Yaaaas.”
Actress pal Tasha (Noël Wells) takes and offhanded shot at changing all that. There’s this guy, newly divorced. He’s tall. He’s played by Chris O’Dowd.
This might-be love connection is what makes “Jessica James” Netflixable. O’Dowd is one of those guys, like John C. Reilly, who makes whatever he’s in better simply by showing up.
Jessica’s cocksure “I KNOW I’m DOPE” pose, the rudeness that she uses as a test, doesn’t crush him.
An “I don’t want to be here right now,” on their first date, gets an “Oh why would I be offended by THAT.”
Her “Just because you caught a unicorn in the wild don’t mean you get to ‘tap it’ whenever you want” is worth a “Wow, I didn’t realize unicorns were so arrogant.”
O’Dowd’s presence and the fact that the film was written and directed by a man is the only hope the picture will achieve some sort of comic parity/balance. The imposing, pushyfunny Williams is that strong a personality.
The cute gimmick is here is that as both of them are obsessed with their exes, so each must unfollow that ex on Instagram..but in turn FOLLOW the ex of the other, and thus filter and limit that obsession as they relate what the other’s onetime significant other is up to.
Just one scene of Jessica working with kids finds laughs, the whole “I’ve got New York wired” thing, explored in every recent New York sitcom, plays out on the subway, in living in ultra-cheap Bushwick, and doesn’t dazzle. And the set ups and break-ups with their requisite make-ups are trite and contrived.
But Williams is a bracing funnywoman (She’s in the “Fantastic Beasts” sequel.) and O’Dowd, quick with an Irish-accented comeback, is one of the few leading men who could take her measure.
Together, they’re as Netflixable as it gets.
MPAA Rating: unrated, sexual situations and innuendo
Cast: Jessica Williams, Chris O’Dowd, Lakeith Stanfield
Credits:Written and directed by James C. Strouse. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:23