From the opening music, a nostalgic sounding synth song, to the alluring closing shots filmed in a forest, Becoming Jessica Nigri tickles your emotions nonstop on a journey that’s more than just a little bit majestic.
I don’t know much about cosplay. I love it, but I’ve never done any myself. I’d say I am cosplay adjacent: I have many friends that do it and I follow about 30 cosplayers on Instagram, but I’m not submerged in that world. After watching Becoming Jessica Nigri, a new documentary from Rooster Teeth’s RT Docs series, I don’t know that I have the fortitude for it.
Anyone who has ever mocked Nigri for her “sexy cosplay” should watch this documentary. I double dog dare you ding-dongs to not gain some respect for this New Zealand-born badass. The world of costume play is fascinating; people work for months on a project they wear for a couple days and then store away until they want to step into that character’s skin again. It’s a daunting task that can only be accomplished with an abundance of passion. I can’t imagine the pride you feel when someone’s eyes light up as they see you dressed as their favourite character. That must be such a rush, you make fantasy a reality for a brief moment. I got a taste of that in Becoming Jessica Nigri.
That said, that documentary is also relatable. In it, Nigri shares some heartwarming anecdotes from her childhood, a tale about the beautiful elf cape her grandmother made for her, and stories of playing D&D with her dad, but she also makes it clear that she didn’t have an easy road to where she is now. This part is probably one of the most important parts of the whole film. She delves into the pain of suddenly being a complete outcast after moving from New Zealand to America. Her accent was mocked and her nerdiness made her a target. I know those trials all too well. My early years were filled with constant teasing because I talked about Lord of the Rings a little too much.
Having a supposed level of attractiveness, as Nigri does, can sometimes lead to people to believe that you have a golden life; no pain behind the cute butt or your nice smile. As she details in the doc, Nigri didn’t let that stop her. She pushed through the pain of adolescence and became the passionate, self-possessed woman that floods social media with her amazing costumes. Turning your inner-geek into your outer-geek is such an admirable way to deal with what could have turned into shame and resentment. Nigri’s positivity is clearly influenced by her support system — her family and her boyfriend, Ryan. As she works on costumes for over 24 hours without sleep, Ryan makes food runs or searches out missing crafting pieces. Her father helps run her Patreon and her mom does what moms do best: She supports her daughter endlessly.
Support is certainly required for the type of work Nigri is doing. She pushes herself to the limit trying to finish projects. The focus of Becoming Jessica Nigri is the costume she wants to build for Blizzcon, a Blizzard Entertainment video game convention held in Anaheim, California. Ryan explains that, for over a year, Jessica has wanted to be Elune from World of Warcraft. She tries her damnedest to make it work for Blizzcon, but unfortunately, she runs out of time.
For a documentary about cosplay, Becoming Jessica Nigri made me I surprisingly emotional. I felt tears sting the back of my eyes while I watched Nigri slowly pack up the pieces of her Elune costume. She speaks about how putting on a costume makes her feel like she’s taking on aspects of that character; it makes her feel strong or sexy when she’s not necessarily feeling that way deep down.
Her next move shows just how much being unable to complete the design she truly desired affected her. With a week to prepare whole new costume, Nigri sets out to turn herself into a dragon — a tough, hard-to-kill-or-even-knock-down dragon. From then on, it’s a time crunch of epic proportions as she races to finish. She cuts her fingers, burns her legs, and doesn’t sleep, like, at all. There’s a scene in which she’s trying on pieces of the dragon design and says she’s got two days left before Blizzcon to finish it — only to have Ryan remind her that they actually leave in one day. The delirious laughter that explodes from her tired body is heartwarming and relatable. Even when the chips are down, Nigri has an exceptional sense of humour — and that’s the true heart of this documentary.
The film is beautifully shot (especially the slow pans over gorgeous costumes), the editing is crisp, and the music ties it all together perfectly. Director Mat Hames did a fantastic job of conveying the sense of community that comes with being a cosplayer, through a well-rounded documentary about an enchanting woman and her wild world.
As the film closes over footage of Nigri wandering a forest in the final product of her tireless efforts, a stunning red and purple, gem-encrusted outfit, I got chills. Throughout Becoming Jessica Nigri, you take a journey with her, you learn so much, and you are left with so much respect for this impish sweetheart. My desire to cosplay increased ten thousand percent after I finished this documentary, and I have a feeling yours will, too.