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Review: Jessica Williams and the indie comedy ‘The Incredible Jessica James’ live up to their billing

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Jessica Williams in the film “The Incredible Jessica James.”
(Netflix)

The eponymous character in this warm indie comedy lives up to the effusive adjective in the title, thanks largely to the performance of Jessica Williams in her biggest film role to date. As written by director James C. Strouse, the heroine of “The Incredible Jessica James” isn’t simply a woman on the rebound in a new relationship. Bold but fragile beneath her tough exterior, she gets an arc beyond the usual romance.

Aspiring playwright Jessica James (Williams) papers the walls in her Brooklyn apartment with rejection letters, while imagining receiving awards from Oprah. Though she can’t stop fantasizing about her ex-boyfriend (Lakeith Stanfield), Jessica agrees to a date with the recently divorced Boone (an adorable Chris O’Dowd), which develops into an unlikely romance.

Strouse demonstrates a contagious affection for his characters, and he invests in them in a way that makes us do the same. These people make good and bad decisions, but we always root for them. Even Jessica’s work as a playwright isn’t just a biography detail that Strouse arbitrarily picked for his protagonist; instead, it informs her approach to storytelling and imagination, and it­ — not her relationship with men — is what drives and defines her.

“The Incredible Jessica James” may feel a little too familiar as character-driven comedies go, but it adds freshness to the standard indie tropes with strong performances, fully realized characters and some truly funny moments.

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‘The Incredible Jessica James’

No rating

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

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Playing: Streaming on Netflix starting July 28

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