22 May 2024

Film Review – The Trouble With Jessica (2023)

The Trouble with Jessica stands out as an entertaining and intriguing film of the contemporary world. Directed by the up-and-coming Matt Winn, this movie entices the audience with its daring narrative decisions and compelling characters, who all scramble to relocate a dead body. With its combination of serious and comical elements, The Trouble with Jessica is indisputably a memorable cinematic experience that leaves a lasting impression on the audience long after the credits roll. It is not just a movie; it is an invitation to explore the shocking secrets that lie beneath the death of the eponymous character, Jessica.

Set in the depths of North London, the plot of the story is centered around the sudden and unexpected suicide of Jessica (Indira Varma). The protagonist, Sarah (Shirley Henderson), along with her husband Tom (Alan Tudyk), an architect, find themselves in a dire financial situation, urgently needing to sell their grand Hampstead property due to Tom’s recent project failure. While having dinner with their close friends from school, Richard (Rufus Sewell), a well-known barrister, and his spouse Beth (Olivia Williams), an unexpected visitor arrives at the couple’s home: Jessica. She is also an old friend from school who has recently published a bestselling book about her carefree and wild youth. Clearly unwelcome, she shamelessly flirts with Tom and gets into a trivial argument at the dinner table with Sarah before rushing off and hanging herself in their garden. Her sudden suicide raises questions: What provoked her to do it? Was it really caused by the argument? Why did she choose to do it in Sarah’s home? Whatever the answers may be, the seemingly normal gathering quickly becomes a dinner party from hell.

Something Winn must be applauded for is his ability to mix foreboding and humorous elements to create an absorbing narrative. His directional ability cannot be denied, as every frame demonstrates his skill as a director, crafting a symphony of mystery and ambiguity, successfully creating a sense of anticipation and breaking it at just the right moment. Everything about the narrative – from the elusive protagonist to the riveting plot twists – is cleverly designed to keep viewers on the edge of their seats, desperately searching for answers in this contemporary comedic drama. The casting choice was great; Shirley Henderson perfectly plays the role of a paranoid, anxious mother and wife who will do anything in her desperate power to preserve the sale of their family home. Indira Varma also superbly encapsulates the role of a promiscuous and unstable writer, who appears to have a history with everyone in the room, especially Mr. X, whose true identity as either Tom or Richard remains a mystery until the end.

Unravelling this arcane history is what drives one of the movie’s main subplots forward, with the main narrative centered around a group of upper-middle-class individuals in well-respected professions contemplating and trying to move a dead body without attracting external attention—a task that proves to be inherently difficult throughout the movie. Their reactions, albeit miscalculated and not reflective of their intellect at times, are exactly what labels this movie a comedy. The recurring motif of the ‘clafoutis’ not only adds to the comic relief and eases the tension but also heavily influences you to bake it yourself after watching. Although quick-paced and unexpectedly shocking at times, The Trouble with Jessica is a well-crafted and entertaining movie that definitely leaves a lasting impression on the audience.

It is also a pleasure to note a fun fact: Rufus Sewell and Shirley Henderson previously worked together in 2005’s Shakespeare Retold: The Taming of the Shrew, where Sewell played the lead Petruchio and Henderson played his nagging shrew, Kate. The two obviously had a good working relationship back then as well as now. British independent cinema is better than ever.


In UK cinemas 5th April 2024 | Cinema / Shirley Henderson, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams, Indira Varma, Alan Tudyk, Sylvester Groth / Dir: Matt Winn / Parkland Pictures / 15

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