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The Trouble with Jessica

A dinner party turns sour when one of the guests elects to kill herself - uneven yet funny British comedy is in cinemas on Friday, April 5th

Matt Winn wisely downplays the kitsch in a comedy that opens up as a pseudo-Agatha Christie-esque thriller, before shifting gears to become a biting critique of the British lower-middle classes.

Sarah (Shirley Henderson) and Tom (Alan Tudyk) has invited three friends over before selling their lush, decidedly monied, house. She is suspicious of author and dilettante Jessica (played with voluptuous elegance by Indira Varma), a woman who is known for “sleeping with boyfriends.” Jessica interrupts Richard (Rufus Sewell), a lawyer who has skirted with the law on a number of occasions, with a rape joke of sorts. It appalls the guests who chastise her, although the table is horrified to discover Jessica perched by a tree, a noose over her neck. Sarah is distressed – will this affect the sale of the house? Undeterred, she confronts the dinner guests, and urges them to move the corpse back to another location; preferably, Jessica’s house.

The ensuing mad farce depends very heavily on the relatively unfunny idea of adultery, as it is swiftly revealed that Richard was enjoying a liaison with Jessica before her death, which leads his wife Beth (a weirdly clawing Olivia Williams) to deliver a series of pietistic monologues on what she considers to be the emblems of decent British behaviour. Beth is the most underwritten character of the five – Williams’ only direction seems to be “nagging wife” – but Sarah makes for an interesting lead, flitting from devious to disconsolate over the course of the film. Henderson has a few crassly funny one-liners, not least in her interactions with one particularly nosy neighbour, who is determined to get an autograph from Jessica. Tom reluctantly goes along with the ruse and moves the body from garden to toilet at the appropriate moments.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the film is that Tudyk (a Broadway performer who starred in Spamalot in his younger days) isn’t the funniest male performer in the film. Believe it or not, Sewell, who nominally appears in harder hitting fodder like Scoop (Philip Martin, 2024), is the wackiest, effortlessly chewing the scenery as a snotty-nosed lawyer fearful for his career if this news breaks on the internet. Written with tart-tongued brio, the film zips along at a measured pace, and the zany central premise certainly lives up to the title. Where it falters is in its execution, particularly when the guests decide to move the body across London, on the pretext that their fallen friend is “drunk”. Invariably, the body flops around, leading to a collection of disconcerted gasps among the ensemble, before parking beside a series of drunken teenagers; two of them in mid-coitus. These jokes fall flat, although they never quite descend to the levels of bad taste, and Sewell delivers a riotuous, epiphet driven attack at the couple caught in flagrante delicto (“Could you do your fucking on someone else’s car?”)

Sadly, the film loses its nerve during the final third, as Henderson’s character queries the brevity of life. Considering the nature of the movie, director Matt Winn would be forgiven for including a short dissertation on the aftermath of suicide, but it sits at odd with the film’s anarchic undercurrents. Yet there’s something endearing to the way Sarah and Tom smile at each other, a couple who have made this far into their marriage, and despite the bumps – unemployment, unrest and dead bodies – there is no doubt that their love is true.

This sticky British comedy will probably get an even ropier American makeover in the future, where the grit will almost certainly get replaced by a bawdier, almost vaudevillian, undertone.

The Trouble with Jessica is in cinemas on Friday, April 5th. Just click here for more information.

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