Oh no, I thought, as I watched Jessica Williams (The Daily Show) light up the screen as The Incredible Jessica James. I don’t know if I like this girl. See, Jessica James is kind of obnoxious. She’s loud and she’s her own biggest fan. She might actually scare me a little if we met in real life.
But as I kept watching, I couldn’t look away. This bright, peppy rom-com follows Jessica through her life in NYC where she works as a drama teacher and is desperately trying to catch a break as a playwright. As if that’s not a full plate, she’s also having a major post-breakup-crisis over her ex (Lakeith Stanfield, Get Out), and trying to figure out if she actually likes Boone (the always adorable Chris O’Dowd, The IT Crowd), who she meets on a blind date. I found myself really appreciating the movie’s take on millennial relationships and struggles.
Like any true comedy, some laughs come easily, some come at the expense of super awkward moments, – and (bonus!) there were plenty of really touching, thoughtful scenes to keep the vibe of the film pretty grounded in reality.
Watching The Incredible Jessica James as someone from her generation (and living in the same city) was cathartic and even encouraging. By the end of the movie I realized, maybe it’s fun to root for a character I’m not naturally drawn to. The empathy I began to feel for her was rooted more deeply in our shared humanity and struggles than it was in a shared sense of humor or similarities in personality.
Because it’s sometimes hard for her to show sympathy for someone else’s struggles, Jessica is often pushy, disrespectful, and downright unkind. This actually isn’t a super uncommon set of traits for a movie’s protagonist – but I realized that it is uncommon for women protagonists.
Hollywood culture so often tries to push women into boxes like “mysterious,” “motherly,” or “brooding bad-ass.” But those single traits don’t define any of us in real life. Jessica is complicated! She is quirky and afraid of losing her identity in a relationship. But she is a wonderful teacher. A good person. She’s 25, and she’s trying really hard.
Like Jessica, I think it’s OK for me to love myself and believe in myself even if I’m still in the process of learning and making mistakes. After all, life is hard in the big city. Sometimes a lady just wants to wear a blue jumpsuit with eyeshadow to match. Jessica James, with a lot of self-love and a little help from her friends, totally makes it work.