Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)
Celeste and Jesse Forever (USA) Directed by Lee Toland Krieger Written by Rashida Jones; Will McCormack; Starring Rashida Jones; Andy Samburg; elijah Wood; Ari Graynor; Chris Messina; eric Christian Olsen; mma Roberts; Will McCormack; Kate Krieger
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind), the title is a bit misleading. This is very much a Rashida Jones vehicle, and so perhaps a more appropriate title might have been Celeste and Some Dude She Used to be Married to or something to the effect… Not that Andy Samburg isn’t fine as the immature nice guy ex husband Jesse, but like another recent quasi/anti-romantic comedy, Take This Waltz, it’s the female half of the equation that gets the full treatment, and is therefore the character we most identify with. Jones co-wrote the script with real life friend (and ex) Will McCormack, who also plays a supporting role as one of Jesse’s buddies.
The thirty six year old Jones has been around for a minute, but we know her mostly from television roles on The Office and Parks and Recreation. She has been a working actor for some fifteen years or so, however, and has made appearances in recent films like My Idiot Brother; The Social Network; and I Love You Man. With appealing looks and solid comedic timing, Jones (daughter of music mogul Quincy and actress mother Peggy Lipton) possesses a rare and appealing package.
This is a genre piece, though it’s a kind of updated modern romantic comedy in the realm of stuff like 500 Days of Summer; I Love You Man; Cyrus; Greenberg; and the aforementioned Waltz. While not quite as dark (or as good) as some in that group, there is both an element of depression/desperation in the mix, as well as some insider Hollywood entertainment satire in this story about a divorced couple who were best friends when they got married and have managed to stay that way.
Too often films of the type adhere rigidly to the formula, and usually offer flimsy characters that feel like cardboard cutouts. There is always an “idea,” as in the girl still loves the guy but he’s engaged and she has to break it up, or, the girl screws up because she didn’t know what she had but now has to prove she “gets it.” Celeste and Jesse is no different - the “idea” being that these two are so tightly enveloped in one another’s lives that though it seems to be over they can’t move on.
What’s nice about the film though is that Jesse and Celeste actually feel like something resembling real people, and the problems with their relationship are not easily fixable. In many romantic comedies the solution is obvious and the frustration level grows for an audience member who just wants to scream, “get together already.” Here we know Jesse and Celeste love one another, and enjoy one anothers company, but Celeste is professionally successful (she owns an L.A. product branding firm) and wants to move forward in her life, and Jesse just can’t seem to grow up (some more details of why this is would have been nice). The idea is she’s already given him all the chances she could and he is still trying to figure out who and what he is. In this case the characters are stuck and conflicted, but believably so.
The script is nuanced enough to paint both of the main characters as having a mix of positive and negative qualities. The one major flaw structurally being that, again, this is more like 70% Celeste and 30% Jesse, so Jesse never emerges as a fully formed character. Jones’ Celeste though is an interesting portrait of a woman in her mid-late thirties who has a solid career but cannot find a reasonable partner. She is a bit of a know-it-all and makes jokes about those who live in the shallow world she inhabits (the contradiction, of course, being why is she in it in the first place?), but she is also hampered by some social awkwardness and an inability to connect to anyone outside her small circle.
Though never uproariously funny, Celeste and Jesse is amusing throughout, and director Krieger does well with the reported under a million dollar budget. The film feels loose and open and doesn’t go too far with the satirical Hollywood stuff. Jones and McCarthy being tuned in actors most likely helped with the cast, so supporting players like Ari Graynor as Celeste’s best friend; Elijah Wood as her boss; and Emma Roberts as a tween pop star contribute to raising the production value.