Jess Plus None – BFI Flare 2023 – Film Review
Wedding season, is certainly a polarising event, as highlighted in Jess Plus None. Love it or loathe it, the season typically elicits a degree of anxiety amongst singletons but surprisingly this sentiment is also shared by the couples invited as wedding guests. Weddings therefore seem fraught with tension. The bride and groom may be striving for perfection, within themselves, and for the day to occur seamlessly. Yet, it is still an occasion evoking excitement and trepidation, in equal measure, for many family members and estranged friends. Jess, as the best friend of the bride, firmly falls within the latter scenario. Jess has her own predicament, created by her best friend Melanie’s wedding, as her ex will be in attendance. Plus, Jess is planning to attend the wedding solo. Thus ensues a comedic but heartfelt premise throughout the length of Jess Plus None’s runtime. The film surprisingly retains a fresh approach, within this already tested genre, with its stream of consciousness, flawed heroine and a focus on friendship’s value.
Mandy Fabian’s decision to emphasis Jess’ friendships enables a warm tone to permeate. Still, a teasing element remains given the play on words evident in the film’s title. Jess Plus None therefore traverses multiple genres alluding to the revered status of having a ‘plus one’ companion at events. Jess’ decision to be a solo wedding guest is reminiscent of the slapstick aspects of My Best Friend’s Wedding and Bridesmaids. Yet, Jess Plus None beats its own drum via its relatable, awkwardly feminist and accident prone protagonist.
Jess’ lack of self-awareness is convincingly portrayed by an impressive Abby Miller and is the foundation for many well-written but cringe inducing scenes. However, Miller conveys the highs, lows and fantasies of Jess with comedic aplomb. All of which highlights Jess’ pivotal role, with her unique interpretation of the world, as she unknowingly upstages the bride.
In other hands, such approach may not have been effective but Fabian has crafted a light touch, likeable tale with humanity and whimsical adventures. There is no doubt that Jess Plus None is a relationship driven film given its subtle analysis of the psychological impact that Jess has on her relationships both romantic and platonic but its superficial approach defies its meaningful aims.
Relationship insights are delved into when guests are presented with challenges on a nature outing at a campsite – which definitely seems like a pre-wedding recipe for disaster! Predictably, previously buried resentments and secrets dangerously rise to the surface adding a layer of intrigue and nuance to an otherwise flat structure. Fabian’s direction assumingly assists with the setting with an emphasis on nature, healing and discovery during an anxiety fraught constructed reality. The film’s linear structure may thus evoke sensations of déjà vu but the bonus is the ongoing humour and sufficiently fleshed out character situations.
Fabian demonstrates an assuredness in this effortless combination underpinned by wit. Profound life questions are fortunately also given their moment throughout Jess’ self-discovery odyssey, asking questions concerning compatibility and the shelf life of relationships. Despite the clumsy veneer, not least due to Jess’ reckless antics, there is substantial soul searching and depth unveiled to keep audiences invested without resorting to sensational devices. Jess’ lack of emotional intelligence, in this age of therapy speak, reveals glaring faux pas which may seem dated to a discerning audience and embedded within a bygone era that championed the inner child and immature adult rather than growth and leaning in.
Despite these idiosyncrasies, Jess Plus None is a heartfelt view of a spurned lover and friend who ultimately follows the pathway of a disruptor rejecting the status quo. Jess’ arc and the film’s redemptive aspect may, thus, introduce unfamiliar aspects to the romantic genre, but Jess Plus None confidently embraces this with charm. Jess Plus None contains enjoyable character performances to extend its appeal to comedy lovers. The film’s message may ultimately resonate with its demonstration that being alone may simply be a step towards a positive process of transformative self-discovery. Fabian provides a supportive voice to being an outlier with a fresh interpretation for the rom-com genre.