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Movie Review: Celeste and Jesse Forever

August 31, 2012
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You’d think that a movie starring funny girl next door Rashida Jones (Parks and Rec) and SNL alum Andy Samberg will be a raucous R-rated romp full of the gross out gags and antics we’ve come to expect from the genre. Surprise, you’re wrong. Celeste and Jesse Forever takes a twist on the romantic comedy, defiantly rejecting the happy Hollywood formula in favor of the bittersweet realism of a relationship.

Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Samberg) have been friends as long as they can remember. The goofy couple marries and it is obvious they are soul mates. They share the same sense of humor, the same taste in music, food and friends. They interact with an ease that most of us find enviable. They are “that” couple; the one you know will be together forever.  The opening credits treat us to some snapshots from their years together, leading up to wedded bliss. Then we ease into real time, where the couple is enjoying a night out. It looks quite typical dinner-, drinks, witty banter and playful flirting. It’s as cutesy as can be, until their friends Beth (Ari Graynor) and Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen) abruptly announce they can no longer hang out with the couple because they are disturbed by their behavior.

You see, Celeste and Jesse are going through a divorce, but nothing has changed. They are inseparable, and Jesse still lives in the converted garage behind Celeste’s house. All their friends think it is weird and confusing for everyone. Slowly, the film shows us what led up to their decision to divorce. This is where the realism kicks in. Celeste is a successful, driven co-partner at a media-marketing firm in Los Angeles. She’s a control freak, and knows exactly what she wants and when she wants it.

Jesse is the antithesis-an artsy slacker who considers his day a success if he manages to catch some waves on his surfboard in Malibu. He dabbles from time to time on his art in his garage/studio, but that’s it for his career aspirations. Celeste thinks it is time to grow up, and becomes increasingly irritated with his lack of ambition. The childhood sweethearts’ lives are starting to diverge, and it is poignantly sad to watch. When you meet someone and fall madly in love you don’t think about how things will be 10 years down the line. Each person is destined to change, but the relationship is doomed if the two people don’t evolve together. It happens all the time.

The predominant theme in the movie is “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”, and we see Celeste and Jesse reach this sentiment under different circumstances, at different times. Jones co-wrote the film with Will McCormack (who appears in the film as a pot dealer), and she is fantastic in the movie. She’s been a solid actor (The Office, I Love You Man), but she has always been relegated to a supporting role. Here she really gets to shine. She is quite beautiful in an exotic way, and she lends just the right amount of vulnerability to her character. I also respect Jones for resisting the urge to make her character perfectly likeable. In fact, Celeste is probably the character you will least like (though I just loved the portrayal). She pulls that first string that slowly unravels their relationship, and trust me, you want these two to make it.

Samberg was also a big surprise. I didn’t think it was possible to take the guy seriously, but damned if he didn’t make me a believer.  Sure, he’s funny, but not in a ridiculous, unbelievable way. He’s also completely sympathetic as a heartbroken man. Emma Roberts is good as Riley, a talentless pop singer whose image is completely manufactured. She looks suspiciously like Kesha. However there’s a lot more to Riley than originally meets the eye.

The screenplay is witty, poking fun at hipster hangouts like coffee shops, frozen yogurt stands, yoga, gyms and vegan restaurants. These things will eventually date the movie, but right now they work well. Everyone in Celeste and Jesse’s little urban tribe is clever and interesting; they are the sort of group you’d like to hang out with for a night or two. Director Lee Toland Krieger shoots the film in the style of Rachel Getting Married; it feels like a home movie, which is perfect for the story.

Ultimately, there are a few clichés, but overall the film felt fresh. I definitely would not say this is a chick-flick. This is a great date movie. If you have ever been in a relationship, you will see something you can identify with. If you have been bickering with your significant other, you’ll be hugging it out in no time.

Rating 4/5

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