The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE TROUBLE WITH JESSICA | The Movie Waffler


The Trouble with Jessica review
A dinner party is disrupted by a guest's suicide.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Matt Winn

Starring: Shirley Henderson, Alan Tudyk, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams, Indira Varma

The Trouble with Jessica poster

The basic setup of Hitchcock's macabre comedy The Trouble with Harry is transferred from rural Vermont to the upper middle class milieu of North London in The Trouble with Jessica. When it comes to comedies in which the characters spend a lot of time lugging a corpse around, there's a thin line between The Trouble with Harry and Weekend at Bernie's, but director Matt Winn's film manages to stay on just the right side of that line.

You'd be forgiven for mistaking The Trouble with Jessica as having its roots in the stage, as most of the drama plays out in a single location, the enviable home of married couple Tom (Alan Tudyk) and Sarah (Shirley Henderson). It's not to be their home for much longer however, as due to falling into financial troubles they've had to put it up for sale. Having received an offer, Tom and Sarah invite another married couple, Richard and Beth (Rufus Sewell and Olivia Williams, who recently played husband and wife in The Father), to a farewell dinner. Much to Sarah's annoyance, Richard and Beth arrive accompanied by an uninvited guest, novelist Jessica (Indira Varma).

The Trouble with Jessica review

The five parties all met in college, when Jessica took both Tom and Richard as lovers. A free spirited singleton, Jessica has continued to flirt with the two men in the years since, and there are suspicions that she may have had an affair with one of them, named as "Mister X" in her latest book. While the two couples have settled down into middle class conformity, Jessica has steadfastly refused to embrace such bourgeois ways. This leads to an argument with Sarah over their disparate values, with Jessica storming out into the garden. When the others head out to talk her back inside they discover she's hung herself from a tree.

Thus begins a moral back and forth as the various parties debate how to handle the situation. Fearing the incident will dissuade their buyer, Sarah suggests moving Jessica's corpse to her own apartment and making it appear as though she killed herself in her own home. Tom is shocked at his wife's suggestion but comes around to her point of view pretty quickly. Beth is horrified at the idea, but when Sarah threatens to blackmail Richard over an illegal manipulation of some legal papers in his work as a solicitor, the two couples find themselves in reluctant lockstep.

The Trouble with Jessica review

What follows is part blackly comic farce and part morality play. The former involves all sorts of Fawlty Towers-esque shenanigans as Jessica's corpse is moved from one location to another in an attempt to avoid detection by prying eyes. Various interlopers threaten to ruin the devious plot, including a pair of police officers, an elderly neighbour determined to have Jessica sign one of her books, and the buyer (Sylvester Groth), a rather sinister German man involved in shady dealings himself as a "consultant" for oil firms.

The central quartet pull off the scenario with comic aplomb. Sewell, who has recently reinvented himself as something of an evil Jude Law, is the standout as Richard, an amoral cad who jokes about the rapists he defends in courts ("I'm good with rapists," he boasts). For all his machismo, he's the one who crumbles the most when faced with the ghoulish scenario and spends much of the film being put in his place by Beth. Tudyk is a natural for a nebbish role like Tom, his cartoonish features a portrait of panic throughout.

The Trouble with Jessica review

While most of the comedy is generated by the male leads, it's their female counterparts who handle the film's more dramatic side. A moral arm-wrestling match is played out constantly between Sarah and Beth, with the former often referring to her working class roots to guilt trip the privileged Beth into seeing her side of things. Watching Henderson and Williams spar, we're left to wonder why both actresses haven't gotten more work in recent years.

The Trouble with Jessica never fully leans into the darkness of its theme. There are some truly macabre moments - like when Richard has to snog Jessica's corpse when he's caught lugging the body through the corridors of her apartment complex – but the film never allows itself to get into the weeds regarding the tragedy that sparks its comic premise. Turning a suicide into the basis for an extended comedic narrative will likely prove a turnoff for many potential viewers, but if you're willing to get sucked into the film's tasteless hijinks, there's some wicked fun to be had here.

The Trouble with Jessica
 is in UK/ROI cinemas from April 5th.

2014 movie reviews