The Incredible Jessica James, which debuted Friday on Netflix, has a title that feels better suited to a Marvel drama than a romantic comedy. And Jessica (Jessica Williams) would make an extremely compelling superhero, endowed as she is with mighty powers of snark, bravado, and withering disdain. Within the movie’s spry 85 minutes, she vanquishes a manspreader on the subway with barely the tilt of an eyebrow, crushes an ex with a piano (in a dream sequence, but even so), and reduces a Tinder date to a puddle of shame and self-loathing. (“I would literally rather have my period nonstop for a thousand years than have this portion of the conversation,” is one of her gentler comebacks.)
In the hands of a less charismatic actress, Jessica could easily be intolerable. But Williams, the 27-year-old former Daily Show correspondent and co-host of the podcast 2 Dope Queens, is so charming that she elevates a perfectly predictable rom-com into a blast. Written and directed by James C. Strouse, who devised the project explicitly for Williams after working with her on 2015’s People Places Things, the movie is gentle and surprisingly sweet, relying on its star’s undeniable magnetism and rhetorical ingenuity. Between the bold, cartoon-typeface title cards, the one-woman dance parties, and the elaborately staged daydreams, there are times when it feels like a raunchy Lizzie McGuire update, only with a much more compelling character at the helm.