CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER (2012)
Starring Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Ari Graynor, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts, Chris Messina, Eric Christian Olsen, Will McCormack, Rebecca Dayan, Rich Sommer, Matthew Del Negro and Rafi Gavron.
Screenplay by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack.
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger.
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 91 minutes. Rated R.
Romantic comedies have become so clichéd and focus-group driven that it is rare, if not nearly unheard of, for one to throw you for a loop.
That is why the first ten minutes or so of Celeste and Jesse Forever are such a treat, because it appears to be following the formula, only to pull the rug out from under you.
Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) are one of those couples. They have been together since tenth grade. They know each other so well that they can finish each others’ sentences. They have a weird shorthand of inside jokes and funny accents that make you unsure whether you want to hug them or strangle them. Perhaps both at the same time.
Then, suddenly, shortly into the film, their best friends – a couple played by Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen – calls them on their cutesiness. The audience sits back, just a bit smugly, in full agreement. That is when the bomb is tossed into the situation – it turns out that Celeste and Jesse have been separated for months now, but he is living in the guest house and they are still each other’s constant companion.
Suddenly the movie is going someplace that the viewer did not expect, asking questions that are much deeper than the average Kate Hudson/Matthew McConaughey sap fest. Is it possible for a couple who has broken up to continue on as if nothing has happened? Can a man and a woman just be friends after being much more intimate? On the other hand, is it possible for a life-long friendship to survive all the pain of lost love? Are they just fooling themselves, or have they lucked onto a perfect situation?
These questions may make Celeste and Jesse Forever seem a serious and perhaps depressing endeavor, but it is nothing of the kind. Bittersweet, yes, but also frequently extremely funny and always intriguing.
The story is co-written by star Jones and Will McCormack, a long-time character actor who has a supporting role here as a local pot dealer who is a friend with both of the exes. Jones and McCormack dated very briefly years ago, but realized early on that they worked better not as a couple. However they became close friends and eventually collaborators. (This is their first screenplay, but another one called Frenemy of the State is due to be made soon.)
Their closeness is obvious throughout the script, and even when the details don’t quite connect (like their running gag of sexually fondling small vegetables and lip balm tubes), they give the relationship a sense of shared history.
This is magnified by the intense chemistry of the stars. Both Jones (who is best known for supporting roles in TV’s The Office and Parks and Recreation as well as several movie roles like Paul Rudd’s fiancée in I Love You Man) and Samberg (Saturday Night Live) are getting their first leads in a romance. (Samberg has had a few straight comic leads.) They are long-time friends as well and their work together is a wonder of timing and chemistry.
In the end, though, as important as Jesse is in her life, this is Celeste’s story. Jones is fearless with the performance (as well as her writing), allowing Celeste to come off as hypocritical, self-righteous, bitchy and sometimes just mean. Yet, she is able to keep the audience on her side. It’s a wonderful performance which should lead to many other opportunities to carry a film. She is easily up to the task.
Jones and McCormack deserve thanks for shaking up the often staid and safe state of romantic comedy. By refusing to play by the rules, they have made probably the best romantic film of the year so far.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 3, 2012.