Two Off-Beat Streaming Picks: The Incredible Jessica James and Opening Night

Posted on July 31, 2017 at 9:37 pm

Not in the mood for superheroes? Two indie picks worth watching premiere this week on streaming services.

“The Incredible Jessica James” (Netflix) is a star-making vehicle for Jessica Williams, “The Daily Show’s” youngest correspondent. She had a small role in the previous film from writer/director Jim Strouse, and he wrote this film for her. As it opens, she does a fierce, funny, and free dance through her apartment and onto the roof and by the time the credits are over, we are completely captivated. The story is nothing new. She’s an aspiring playwright trying to find her way in New York City, with a wall covered in rejection letters and a heart recently broken in a breakup with a guy (Lakeith Stanfield) who is very appealing, so we feel for her. She attends her younger sister’s baby shower. She tries to help a young girl in the drama class she teaches. She goes on a blind date. She has a quirky/quippy best friend (Noel Wells). It’s a pretty standard romantic comedy. But Williams has a nice chemistry with Chris Dowd as her possible new love, there are some funny lines, and she is utterly irresistible. See it. You’ll have fun and you’ll always be able to say that right from the beginning you knew she’d be a star.

“Opening Night” (Amazon) is a backstage story about a dumb jukebox musical and all of the drama and chaos that goes into giving the audience a great show. It’s wildly uneven, as though it was put together by an improv group or maybe its large cast each wrote a premise on a slip of paper and then everyone picked one out of a hat. Topher Grace is appealing, as always, if slumming a bit as the one-time performer turned stage manager, dealing with various crises of love, fear, and various substances. A plotline about male and female dancers competing to seduce the new guy goes on way too long and way too far as does another about the cynical star’s accidental ingestion of drugs. It’s the kind of raunchy that indicates a failure of imagination. What makes it fun is the cast of real theatrical performers who show us that the show really must go on. It kind of makes me wish we were sitting out front to see them do the whole show.

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