H2N Review: The Incredible Jessica James

The Incredible Jessica James could just as well be called The Incredible Jessica Williams, because it’s basically a feature-length reel for the talents of the effervescent former Daily Show correspondent. Williams has got the dramedy chops and the charisma to sell what would otherwise be a medley of romantic comedy/self-exploration tropes. Netflix picked up this Sundance favorite, written and directed by Jim Strouse expressly for Williams. She played a supporting role in his last film, (the comma defying People Places Things) with such aplomb that he wondered why she hadn’t yet helmed a film.

Jessica James is a mid-twenties playwright living in Brooklyn. The thing about Jessica (both James and Williams) is that she doesn’t do anything half-assed. She boogies her way through the opening credits, celebrating life and immediately luring in the audience with her awesomeness. That’s not to say that she’s devoid of challenges. She struggles with a recent breakup. (Though she initiated the split, she continuously fantasizes about run-ins with her ex [LaKeith Stanfield, TV’s Atlanta] wherein he begs for her to take him back before being abruptly killed in a variety of freak accidents.) She papers her walls with rejection letters from theater companies, paying her bills with a job mentoring kids in the (read with British accent) art of theatre at a non-profit. She desperately wants her students to match her passion for the craft, and she gets a little overbearing when it seems like her favorite kid isn’t trying hard enough. Jessica is lovable but she’s also flawed and complex. That’s just not something you see very often in female-driven comedies…

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H2N Review: World Without End (No Reported Incidents)

I had forgotten all about Counting when I started watching Jem Cohen’s latest, World Without End (No Reported Incidents). But after just a few minutes, it all came flooding back. Cohen has a distinctive documentarian voice that’s all about observation. He goes light on titles and completely eschews narration. He simply enters a place and takes a good look around. He lets the place tell the story. And it’s the story that the place would be telling whether or not you were there to see it…

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H2N Review: The Most Hated Woman in America

It doesn’t take much for a woman to become the recipient of scorn in America. Usually, just pointing out any sort of inequality between the genders will get a girl in trouble. So it was especially easy for the outspoken atheist and “non-conformist”, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, to earn the title of “Most Hated Woman in America” in 1963, when she won a lawsuit that resulted in banning scripture from public schools. Tommy O’Haver’s identically titled biopic, stars Melissa Leo as the brazen woman in question, framing the story around the true crime ending to her life. In 1995, O’Hair was kidnapped, along with her youngest son and granddaughter, and held for ransom. Perhaps it’s because of this that O’Haver and co-writer Irene Turner visited the Coen tonal wellspring in their script. It doesn’t quite succeed in emulating its influences, but it does effectively tell the story of a woman who deserves to be remembered…

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H2N Review: Little Sister

Zach Clark’s follow up to 2013’s White Reindeer, shares plot points with some rather trite films. In Little Sister, Addison Timlin plays Colleen, a woman in her early twenties who returns to her childhood home and her troubled, semi-estranged family in order to tie up emotional loose ends before making a major life change. If this were a Cameron Crowe or Zach Braff joint, the protagonist would meet a manic pixie dream person, dance quirkily to indie music, and do something cathartically impulsive, all while falling in love with said pixie. A blow-up with family members would trigger a revelation about her impending life change, and she would rejoin her life-in-progress with renewed hope and a new relationship basket containing all of her eggs.

Fortunately, Zach Clark is neither a Braff nor a Crowe. His protagonist, once a full-fledged Goth, has rebelled against her troubled family by joining a convent. She is only one rite away from cementing her lifetime commitment to God. Because of Colleen’s cultural roots, the soundtrack contains barely an acoustic guitar or crooning sad sack (we’re instead, serenaded with deep cuts from Gwar). Better still, because of Colleen’s vows, there is no manic pixie anyone. Colleen interacts only with her parents, her childhood pal, and her older brother, Jacob (Keith Poulson). Jacob is an Iraq war vet who recently returned home after an explosion disfigured him and fried his lungs. Colleen’s stoner parents are the ones doing most of the drugs…

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