Netflix’s The Incredible Jessica James starring the incomparable Jessica Williams, is a love story, the kind of love story that young women like myself have needed for quite some time. The start of the film finds our hero Jessica, a struggling playwright and theatre teacher, just after breaking up with a long-term boyfriend. While romantic love helps nudge the story along with help from Chris O’Dowd’s character, Boone [Ok just as a quick sidenote - I’m not sure when O’Dowd’s transition from “IT Crowd guy” to Hollywood leading man happened, but I am 100% here for it!], romance is just one small facet of this wonderful, charming film. Jessica says as much in the opening scene to her clammed up, nervous Tinder date:
“I think it’s really dangerous to seek personal fulfillment through romantic relationships.”
The statement is played for irony, as Jessica’s actions will later prove in the scene, but it sets the tone and tells you exactly the purpose of the film. Like I said this is a love story, but not just about romance. The Incredible Jessica James gives equal time and runs the gambit of all the important relationships we have in our mid-20’s - partners, friendship, family, work. I especially loved the bond between her and her students. The joy she has for theatre is truly crystallised through her commitment to those kids and how she interacts with them. There’s also hilarious moments that deal with struggling to get along and relate to your suburban family when you live in an urban centre and work in a creative field.
But more than anything, I was overjoyed by the way sex was talked about and depicted in the film… so much so that I literally jumped off the couch to do a little dance of excitement. As someone who has long lamented the trope of only ever showing or implying penis-in-vagina sex in cinema, I was immensely excited by how much time was given to gorgeous, sex-positive dialogue. Jessica’s best friend Tasha, played by Master of None’s Noël Wells, is the masturbation enthusiast after my own heart. They have a full 30 second conversation about which vibrator is the best vibrator.
“You have more than one vibrator?”
“Has one man ever fulfilled ALL of your needs?”
This is EXACTLY how I feel about sex toys. Toys aren’t replacing anyone, and there isn’t just one toy that is the be all and end all of all sex toys. It’s more like getting a load of tapas and trying different things or going for ice-cream and getting 2 or 3 scoops of different flavours. Apologies for the food-related metaphors; I’m very hungry whilst writing this.
Later on in an act of the most pure gal-friendship, Jessica buys Tasha a new vibrator, a Minna Ola, which she gleefully clutches with both hands.
“Oh my god it’s an Ola! It captures and replays your vibration patterns. I think I’m gonna cry.”
The sex, and more importantly the conversations leading up to the sex between Jessica and Boone are delightful. They’re sweet and awkward. They admit that the emotions we have around breakups and exes are complicated, especially in an age of social media where Instagram lurking is common practice. They work through these chats and eventually come to some lovely, frank bedroom negotiation. I won’t spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, but any dope who says that asking for consent ruins the mood needs to sit down and learn from these scenes. As a woman who has endured a lifetime of watching men take the lead in bed on screen, it was nothing short of joyful to see an egalitarian back and forth between the sheets, where both parties take turns asking each other how they like to be touched. It wasn’t just sweet, it was hot!
Overall I felt The Incredible Jessica James did a brilliant job of capturing the messy complexities of being a young woman in the 21st century. Instead of going down the path of making Jessica a moody, forlorn millennial-type, Jessica Williams and writer Jim Strouse created a role model with humanity - a woman of colour who is confident and vivacious from the get-go, even just out of a breakup, and who matures and grows from all the loves in her life, not just the romantic ones. Please go watch it.