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CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER (2012)
Celeste and Jesse are the perfect couple. They’re inseparable. They finish each other’s sentences. They annoy their friends with their endless inside jokes. The only problem is they’re not a couple. Not anymore. They’ve been separated for six months and are getting ready to divorce one another. Not that you could tell by looking at them. This creates a problem for their many mutual friends, who find the non-couple’s clingy, codependent relationship just plain weird.
The truth is Celeste (played by the incredibly appealing Rashida Jones of “Parks and Recreation”) and Jesse (“SNL” fave Andy Samberg) are either unwilling or unable to get on with their lives. They’ve been together so long, they don’t know how to exist without each other. It’s like When Harry Met Sally... in reverse. The two have fooled themselves into thinking they’re being all mature by remaining friends. So far, though, their “divorce” consists of Jesse moving into the spare room of their house. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for personal growth.
As a result, they’ve more or less metastasized into lesser versions of their former selves. Jesse, not exactly a self-starter to begin with, wallows in his slacker-surfer-unemployed-artist status. Celeste, a tightly self-controlled “trend analyst” for a Los Angeles P.R. firm, blithely ignores all sage advice in order to bolster her neurotic need to always be right. Despite what others say, they’re perfectly happy with the arrangement. Except, of course, that they’re not. Not by a long shot.
The untenable situation eventually comes to a head one night following a drunken bout of sexual backsliding. Oddly enough, it’s Jesse who decides it would be best for all parties involved if they just moved on (and out). The two try dating other people, but Celeste bristles at this new arrangement. Ostensibly, they separated because Jesse was a slacker who couldn’t get a job and didn’t want to have kids. But, now that he’s out from under Celeste’s controlling thumb, he seems to be having a renaissance. In one magnificently telling scene, our ex-lovers reunite for lunch. He chooses the spot—a hippie-dippy vegan restaurant. At first, it’s funny to see Jesse transformed into an organic-seaweed-loving bohemian, and Celeste gleefully tears into him for it. But as the scene wears on, slow realization creeps in. Maybe Jesse hasn’t changed. Maybe this was him all along—only he couldn’t express it because he was too busy being part of the “Celeste & Jesse” show. Spotting Jesse’s growth is easy. Charting out Celeste’s is somewhat more difficult.
Fortunately, the film is co-written and executive produced by Jones, who gives herself the complex, nuanced role she’s deserved for years. Celeste and Jesse Forever is a wise, witty, melancholic romantic comedy that more or less ignores the traditional rules. Your basic Hollywood rom-com ends with a wedding or a kiss. But it’s hard to figure out how either would solve the problems of these likable but emotionally immature characters. Though C&J4E is deeply enamored with the concept of falling in love, it admits that romance can’t fix all your problems. There are certain things you’ve got to sort out all by your lonesome.
The film has a superb, distinctive voice. It’s hip without being trendy, cute without being twee. The cast clearly gets it. Elijah Wood upturns expectations as Celeste’s tragically unhip gay business partner. Emma Roberts surprises as a quietly observant tween pop star. Jones and Samberg, front and center for most of the film, have a wonderfully realistic chemistry. When they kiss, they look like people who know what it’s like to kiss one another. Best of all, though, the film isn’t afraid to sub out Hollywood clichés with painful truths. Captain and Tennille were wrong: Love will not keep us together. Turns out Joy Division was closer to reality: Love will tear us apart. And friendship? Well, maybe there’s something to it after all.
Celeste and Jesse are the perfect couple, except for one thing: They’re divorced. Months after their break-up, they’re still best friends and living with each other. But when they realize that it’s time to move on, their lives are thrown into upheaval, and the two must reevaluate the way they view each other and themselves.
Samberg and Jones are adorable together. Their comedic backgrounds allow for a quick repartee, and a natural back and forth that makes it easy to believe them as more than a couple, but great friends. But their dramatic scenes are especially strong. The way they argue never feels like a forced shouting match, but as if the two are more disappointed in what they find in the circumstance, resulting in real heartbreak. Rashida Jones has displayed broad emotional range in her TV career, but with the scope of a whole feature film her to breathe as an actress, she drives the films story and emotions with her performance.
Samberg?! – I normally can’t stand Andy Samberg. I don’t like his smug persona or his over the top, clumsy acting style. However, in this film, he is positively disarming. He is rarely playing for laughs, and turns in a shockingly natural performance. His dramatic scenes are reserved and quiet, accenting the internal confusion towards the state his character suddenly finds himself in.
Director of photography David Lanzenberg shot the film on the Arri Alexa, which is a high latitude digital format, allowing for great detail in high and low light situations (think Drive), and it is employed nicely. Backlit, early morning shots are evenly shaded, and dark nighttime shots are full of rich facial details. The filmmakers really took advantage of the capabilities of their camera system.
There are a couple of subplots that are in fact essential to the story, but in the moment feel superfluous or unresolved. Particularly when Jones’ brand designer character tries to get back on her feet in the dating world, and when she establishes a new friendship with a combative, pop star client. Though ultimately relevant to the story, leading Jones’ character to where she needs to be, they feel a little clunky in the moment.
Celeste and Jesse Forever ultimately stands as a testament to the benchmark relationships that define who we become as adults. Most people seem to have one especially substantial relationship before finding their true loves, and this is a story about that and the process of moving on. It has great performances from talented comedic actors (Elijah Wood’s performance as Jones’ gay assistant is especially well tempered and fun), and stands apart from the generic romantic comedies churned out by studios.
Like the indie (and personal) darling from 2009, 500 Days of Summer, Celeste and Jesse Forever is quirky and comedic, but at the end of the day, honest and relatable look at an offbeat relationship. And while it's going to take a lot to trump Tom and Summer in my mind, Celeste and Jesse are quite the charming couple, despite their supremely unusual situation. The new film, which had its world premiere at this year's Sundance, is a touching, sweet, and absolutely hilarious dramedy that fulfills all the requirements of the genre. Relatable characters, smart dialogue, and genuine emotion. This one scores with flying colors.
Celeste and Jesse are the perfect couple. They complete each other's sentences. They have a delicious rapport. They have this little thing that they do where they pretend to masturbate a small tube of cream, resulting in… well, you get the idea. They spend all their time together. So why are all their friend's creeped out? No reason, just that Celeste and Jesse are getting a divorce.
Now that's a clever premise if I ever did see one. We aren't clued into the fact that marital problems have arisen until about 15 minutes in, and it's a genuine surprise, because the two of them are so frigid' good together. The script, written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, finds the perfect balance between raunch and pathos, creating something that seems familiar, but ultimately transforms into something special and refreshing.
And damn, do the cast members knock it out of the park! Jones plays Celeste, and utilizes her impeccable comedic timing, as well her strong dramatic chops, to great effect. Her counterpart is Andy Samberg, playing Jesse like the most complex SNL character ever. Samberg hasn't really ever had a chance to flex his dramatic muscles, but he displays a confident touch, and creates a character worth celebrating. McCormack is hilarious as Celeste and Jesse's pot dealing friend, and Emma Roberts offers up some inspired lunacy as an obvious parody of all things Ke$ha. And Elijah Wood is pitch perfect as Celeste's business partner who is trying way too hard to advertise that he is gay.
Under the watchful eye of director Lee Toland Krieger, Celeste and Jesse Forever is something really wonderful. At times gut bustingly funny, thanks in no small part to Jones and Samberg's infectious chemistry, and at times very difficult to watch, it perfectly walks the tight rope between full on comedy and full on drama.
This is one you shouldn't miss! Also, the soundtrack is awesome!