Written and directed by Wendy Jo Carlton
It’s long been said that men and women can’t be ‘just friends’. In many Hollywood films (When Harry Met Sally, Friends With Benefits, Friends With Kids, ad infinitum) this axiom becomes a pursuant theme, which they always, and invariably, succumb to.
But what about the gay community? Surely, the same rules must apply. If platonic, heterosexual relationships are undone by corporeal attraction, then so to must homosexual relationships. In her romantic comedy about love between best friends, Wendy Jo Carlton spins into familiar territory with a queer twist, but instead of being a reductive, banal mimicry of her hetero-centric contemporary’s, Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together has enough heart and ingenuity to stand on its own.
Initially, Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together does feel a lot like When Harry Met Sally. Set in Chicago, Jessie (Jessica London-Shields) is a shy, peculiar barista/student living with her best friend Jamie (Jacqui Jackson), a suave lady’s woman/actress. As Jamie prepares to move to New York to further pursue her acting career, Jessie is forced to rationalize the lingering feelings that she has for her, which Jamie is oblivious to.
However, unlike the aforementioned, the film does not take on a sweeping chronology through time and space. Instead, Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together is a more grounded, intimate affair that adds a sense of rapport to Jamie and Jessie’s similarly close relationship.
Seemingly improvisational in nature, Carlton has supreme trusts in her two leads, allowing them to riff, banter and riposte in a way that feels organic and natural. Their conversations seem inspired from real life transcripts, making the viewer feel like they’re submerged in a personal experience about a personal experience.
The film also avoids falling into genre tropes, especially regarding its characters. For example, the lesbian characters are fully realized manifestations of real women, unlike the parochial Hollywood practice of having straight, supermodel-type actresses pretending to be gay (see Cherry).
In fact, there’s even a recurring theme in which Jessie is set up on blind dates with lesbian clichés. From the butch, leather-loving dyke to the whimsically eccentric hippy woman, Jessie’s rejection of these characters is representative of the film’s rejection of these stereotypes. Conversely, these sequences, when juxtaposed with the film’s central characters, highlight the genuine and human nature of the leads.
There are also a series of fun and lighthearted musical sequences, and although they are not frequent enough to rise above its practicality as a gimmick, it does gives us a small insight on the Broadway ambitions and suppressed emotions of the characters.
With an abundance of heart and genteel authenticity, Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together is a romantic comedy that never forces its hand, but, instead, gently guides its narrative to a sweet, refreshing conclusion.
– Justin Li
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