Review of “Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together”

A musical romantic comedy that defies genre conventions and expectations left and right, Jamie and Jessie are Not Together is one of the funniest, most original lesbian films of the year. With an attractive, likeable cast of characters, snappy, believable dialogue and two phenomenal leads, it’s a summery blast of fresh air.

Jessie (Jessica London-Shields) and Jamie (Jacqui Jackson), both queer, are roommates and best friends. We first meet them biking along the road to their Chicago apartment, and then witness an awkward conversation – Jamie is moving to New York for an acting gig (on Broadway, mind you) in two weeks.

At first, it seems like our carefree leads are in a relationship, as they spend plenty of time together skinny dipping on the beach and snuggling on their couch, the picture of domestic bliss. However, it quickly becomes apparent that they are not actually together – Jamie is dating the smoking hot Rhonda (Fawzia Mirza), and Jessie is madly, hopelessly in love with Jamie. She gets sad and angry when Jamie shirks off their skinny dipping sessions to have hot sex with Rhonda, a point she’s quick to make with song.

Yes, this is a musical, with our characters belting out their innermost thoughts and desires with epic song and dance routines. However, much of the plot is dealt the traditional way (dialogue as opposed to music), and the big numbers are used sparingly, to great effect. Think of it as “musical light” – more of a traditional narrative with a few musical scenes thrown in to spice things up.

Quickly, Jessie takes the advice of her friend Dawn and starts going off on blind dates, many of which go hilariously awry, reminiscent of Kissing Jessica Stein. Meanwhile, Jamie begins to become aware of Jessie’s feelings for her, mainly since everyone in her life (including Rhonda) starts pointing it out to her.

Everything gets complicated when Jessie meets Elizabeth (Marika Engelhardt), a beautiful, friendly woman who helps poor Jessie get her wheel-compromised bike home in the rain. Sporting a sailboat and a compatible sense of humor, Elizabeth is precisely what our lovelorn heroine needs.

Throughout, the movie retains an assured, comfortable pace and a wicked sense of humor. The awkwardness of being in love with a best friend, blind dating, even getting drunk at a party and saying things you shouldn’t – all of it is staged beautifully and executed with perfect timing. The dialogue and settings are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, and the cast is talented, attractive, and instantly likeable. These are people you believe immediately and want to hang around with.

Director Wendy Jo Carlton (Hannah Free) could not have asked for better leads. London-Shields is effervescent – by turns mopey (she is in unrequited love, after all), hilariously awkward, and ultimately loveable. Jackson’s Jamie is charming, effortlessly sexy, and incredibly sweet. Together, the women have a chemistry that is powerful and fluid – no matter what’s going on in the scene, there’s undeniable electricity between them.

Likewise, the supporting cast is fantastic. In terms of the musical numbers (including one early scene in Jessie’s coffee shop), they pull everything off with style, grace, and good humor. Fawzia Mirza, Sienna Harris, and Tinuade Oyelowo deserve special mention here for putting genuine performances and making such strong impressions with limited screen time.

The production values are light-years beyond what you’ll see in most queer films, especially in terms of the cinematography. Chicago has never looked so good, presented as it is here as a summery playground in which nearly everyone is an attractive young gay woman.

In fact, you should only steer clear of this movie if the last statement doesn’t sound incredibly appealing to you. There’s a definite hipster vibe about Jamie and Jessie, so if you’re allergic to fixies, hoodies and ironic nerd glasses, you may not want to sign up. Otherwise, you really should give this a shot – even if you’re not a huge musical fan.

One of the most appealing factors (aside from the cast) is just how fresh the film feels. The plot is actually unpredictable, with the action flowing naturally from character motivation instead of paint-by-numbers genre screenwriting. The musical format is used unconventionally, and the music itself is fantastic – both the original score and the songs used to underscore the scenes. Lesbian music icons like Tegan and Sara and God-des and She, as well as Anomie Belle, Ripley Caine, Stewed Tomatoes, Julie Neumark and Sera Cahoone are featured in the soundtrack.

Jamie and Jessie is a very pleasant surprise. Coming off of Hannah Free, you wouldn’t necessarily expect writer/director Wendy Jo Carlton to create something so bubbly and fresh, but here it is. A pop confection with surprising depth, this may very well be the narrative hit of this summer’s festival crop.

Check out the film’s official website for screening information.

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