Celeste and Jesse Forever Reviews
Very good movie! "Celeste and Jesse Forever" takes a fairly standard romantic comedy concept and fine tunes it for more indie-minded audiences. This is not to suggest that the plotting or characterizations are any less manufactured; it simply means that the film is overall quirkier, subtler, and not as easily attracted to the idea of a fairytale ending. I liked the title characters, although for most of the film, I struggled to empathize with them, in large part because they persisted in being so caviler about their feelings for each other. Although Celeste is a right fighter and control freak, and although Jesse has the emotional maturity of a five-year-old, they're both in denial about the reality of the separation and lack the courage to admit that they really do belong together. Essentially, the film is a cautionary tale of not taking relationships for granted. For Celeste, it's a journey towards relinquishing control and accepting the mistakes she has made. For Jesse, it's about realizing that he has made his bed and now has to lay in it. Both changes come about as the result of a plot twist that actually hasn't been given away in the ad campaign. The film is told more through Celeste's point of view and it's nice to see a romantic comedy that seems true to life and revolves around the woman having a mental breakdown rather than the guy. There's something special in "Celeste and Jesse," however, some rare ability to see the humor in the personally tragic, the potential for levity and irony in any situation. The emotional place that these two best friends arrive at in the end might not be as satisfying as that in a strong romance or rom-com, nor as poetic as in a tragedy, but with its playful disposition, it manages to carve out a place that's different, one that stands out from the pack just enough.
Celeste and Jesse have been best friends forever. They dated in high school, got married, and now they're getting divorced. Their best friends don't think they can maintain their friendship throughout the dissolution of their marriage, but Celeste and Jesse don't think there will be a problem. But that's before Jesse gets into a relationship that Celeste doesn't think he can handle, and Celeste finds it harder to move on than she originally thought.
When I went to see this film, I couldn't help but compare it to Breaking Upwards, which has essentially the same plot. But the problem with Breaking Upwards was that the characters found moving on superficially easy, and the characters were never called into question in any serious way. Celeste and Jesse Forever improves on this flaw. We realize Jesse's problems quickly: he needs to grow up, and since Judd Apatow has covered this territory so thoroughly that any other story about men needing to take responsibility would seem like a tired cliche, Celeste dominates the second act. Her flaws are less obvious. She seems to have it all together, but having it all together makes her indomitable, with an air of superiority that makes her unapproachable. Rashida Jones plays the nuances of this character well, and the film isn't afraid to make her unattractive.
I agree with Super Reviewer Alice Shen who stated, "Jesse's 0 (still being "in love" with Celeste and too-scared-to-let-go booty calls) to 60 (having a baby and wanting to make it work with someone he just met) transformation is just too inexplicable." She's right, but there are nevertheless a lot of strengths to how sharply these characters are drawn; Jones shows herself to be a very good writer.
Overall, I liked Celeste and Jesse Forever, a romantic comedy with more brains than many in its genre.
Can you remain best friends with someone you once loved? How about someone you once knew as your spouse? Celeste and Jesse are certainly trying but their idealistic "BFF" status seems destined to meet a harsh reality. Celeste and Jesse Forever is labeled as a "loved story" and I think that's a pretty apt description. These two characters clearly have a deep affection for one another, but after six years the feelings just aren't enough. What happens when you marry your best friend but that just isn't enough? I was hoping for some greater answers from the movie, or at least a harder examination on why some relationships fall apart when things look like they should work. That's not exactly what the movie offers. For a film with an aim to be more realistic about the fallings out of love, the movie follows a familiar formula. There's the cute guy at yoga (Chris Messina) into Celeste, but first she has to get settled. I think I wouldn't have minded this character if he didn't feel so much like a plot device, a hasty happy ending meant to be put in a holding pattern until called upon. The "Jesse" half of the title will be gone for lengthy chunks of the movie. His portrayal also borders on simplistic. I wish we got more of his side of the relationship, especially since he's going through sudden change himself. After seeing the trailer, I thought I was going to find the movie immensely relatable. Maybe I just got all the recognizable personal drama out of my system with The Five-Year Engagement (double feature for bitter lovers?).
Fortunately, the movie is also fairly funny. The comedy can feel a tad sitcomish at times with misunderstandings and catching people in embarrassing situations. The screenplay by Jones and co-star Will McCormack (TV's In Plain Sight) is routinely amusing, settling with soft chuckles rather than anything histrionic. It fits the subdued tone of the movie, since it's about people coming to terms with messy emotions and not whacky mishaps. Then there's a whole subplot involving a teen pop star (Emma Roberts) that feels recycled from a whole other movie. This storyline leads to a few good jokes but it doesn't seem to add anything of value to the plot. The comedy doesn't overcompensate for the dramatics, and Celeste and Jesse Forever finds a nice tonal balance between the heartache and humor. I wouldn't say the film is necessarily quirky but it certainly operates to an offbeat comedic rhythm. There are a few cringe-worthy editions but the characters and the actors make it worth any personal discomfort.
If Jones (TV's Parks and Recreation) needs a good boyfriend I will gladly volunteer my services. My God this woman is beautiful. I don't want to set off any alarm bells, but this woman is a goddess. She's also extremely talented and a naturally charming presence. Her chemistry with Sandberg (That's My Boy) is out of this world. They are so relaxed together, no amiable, so enjoyable, that it really does come as a shock when their unamused friends have to sternly remind them they are getting a divorce. They have a wealth of in-jokes and secret couple codes, and they're so cute together that you wonder if maybe, just maybe, they'll reconcile by the end. Sanberg is better than I've ever seen him, giving a strong, heartfelt performance as a nice guy trying to make sense of his eroding situation. But this movie is Jones' movie, and she shines. While her facial expressions can get a little overly animated at times (TV-ish mannerisms?), this movie is a terrific showcase for her dramatic and comedic talents. This woman will excite you, frustrate you, break your heart, make you laugh, but you'll be glued to the screen.
The tricky part is that Celeste is both our protagonist and antagonist. She is the root of her own unhappiness, and coming to terms with the fact that she was wrong is a big moment of personal growth, however, it's not exactly the direction audiences may be happy with. It's harder to root for a character that is sabotaging her own progress. Jessie, especially as played by Sandberg, is pretty much an adorable puppy dog throughout the whole movie; it's hard to stay upset with him, and occasionally Celeste will lead him on and then punish him for following. She tells him to move on but then pulls him back to her when he threatens to do just that. She chastises him for not being serious enough, for not having direction, yet you get the impression throughout the movie that Celeste bares some responsibility in this situation as well. Jesse is laid back, though hardly the arrested development slackers dotting most of modern comedy these days. As one character notes, perhaps Celeste enjoyed keeping her husband grounded, limited, stuck. I don't chalk it up as malice, more a comfortable situation that Celeste is afraid to disrupt. She's the overachiever, he's the underachiever, they compliment one another, that is, until Celeste decides they don't. Then when it looks like Jesse's growing up, she wants him back, or thinks she does, at least this newer version of Jesse. As you can see, it's complicated. At no point would I dismiss Celeste as a callous person, but the movie is tethered to her personal growth of being able to admit fault. Her window with Jesse has passed. The movie is about her journey to realizing that.
Celeste and Jesse Forever feels like a movie of small waves. It doesn't have the Big Declarative Moments of most rom-coms or indie romances, and that's because it's not a romance as much as an autopsy on why a romance went down for the count. It's melancholy without getting mopey. It has certain hipster tendencies but nothing that rises to an insufferable level of twee; it's routinely adorable and rather heartfelt in places, though I'd wishes it had offered more potent insight into its characters. This isn't going to be a movie that people build up great emotion for. By nature it's pretty low-key, choosing to handle its emotional pyrotechnics with delicacy and the occasional comedic set piece. For a comedy about divorc,e this si surprisingly sensitive. These are nice people, good humored, and you sort of wish the movie would just scrap any indie ambitions and substitute a happy ending. You want to shout at the screen, "Just reconcile already!" Maybe that was me just using the movies as good old therapy again (see: The Five-Year Engagement review, or don't). Celeste and Jesse Forever is an agreeable, affable, bemusing movie, with enough laughs and emotion to justify giving it a chance.
Nate's Grade: B
Surprisingly with its sit-com plot and comic actors in the lead, "Celeste and Jesse Forever" is glum and dour without being emotionally resonant in any meaningful way. While Andy Samberg's eyebrows betray him whenever he tries to be serious, Elijah Wood hits just the right note of bemusement. And then there is the large matter of a script that might have just worked after maybe another 50-60 drafts. So, maybe I should not complain that I still have no idea what exactly Celeste does for a living, especially considering I like the title of her book.
This is one of those rom-coms where you find yourself really hoping the protagonists hook up at the end. In this case it's because they're so obnoxious you wouldn't want anyone else to have to endure them. Jones is a "trend forecaster", one of those great movie jobs which requires you to do very little work. She spends a lot of time mocking the decline of American culture while behaving like a moron herself and hanging out with people with names like "Skillz". Samberg has no job but still seems capable of leading a highly active social life. The only likeable character is ironically the one we're meant to despise, Roberts playing a Brittney Spears type pop star who Jones considers the nadir of culture.
Despite it's hip pretensions, the movie verges unconfortably close to homophobia with it's gay stereotyping. The film's aesthetic looks like it was by a teenage girl who just discovered Instagram. It's hard to see who the target audience is for this as it literally has something to infuriate everyone.
For a while, this is more than a little annoying...but that's the point of the film. This hipster pair need to get over their smug selves and become better people. It's a lovely conceit and written with a sharp eye towards unexpected turns within every scene, alive performances, and simply believable scenarios. Celeste works as a Trend Forecaster, and her encounters with both Elijah Wood, as her gay boss, and Emma Roberts, perfectly channeling Taylor Momsen, not only bring such spark to the film, but both characters truly have a lot of bearing on Celeste's big issues. Wood is loose and fun here, and one scene where he and Jones sing their feelings was surprisingly charming, but Roberts is the revelation of the film. Keeping to the theme that every person isn't who they seem to be, she reveals layers and layers of her character as the film progresses, and I anxiously awaited each moment.
I don't want to take away anything from Jones, who owns this film. I've admired her work in THE OFFICE and PARKS AND RECREATION, but she's merely the Straight Woman to everyone else's crazy. Here, she gets to carry the comedy AND bring nuance and depth to a character most of us would dismiss outright. I felt for this couple, as I did for each of their new love interests (Chris Messina, always charming, and Rebecca Dayan). Also, Ari Graynor, who completely stole NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST, plays Jones' BFF with what is quite possibly the best side-eye in the business. I can't wait to see what she does next (which happens to be FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL, opening this Fall).
David Lanzenberg, making his feature debut as a Cinematographer, does notable work here as well. The camera is always probing and finding new angles at which to see Celeste. It's all pretty indie style, but occasionally a stunner of a shot is presented to make you truly appreciate the work done here. One shot in particular is a wide night exterior outside a wedding tent. When he finally zeroes in on a main character for that final shot, the camera work, direction, and performance truly comes together.
I'm excited for the romantic comedy genre after seeing this film.