I am happy to share another guest post by Zack Mandell. Zach is a movie enthusiast, writer of movie reviews, and owner of www.movieroomreviews.com which has great information on actresses such as Rashida Jones. He writes extensively about the movie industry for sites such as Gossip Center, Yahoo, NowPublic, and Helium.
Let’s face it: The state of the modern romantic comedy is abysmal, and it has been for a while. It’s no one person’s fault by any means; it’s a systematic issue. The Hollywood rom-com hasn’t matured or really changed its formula since the studio days when names like Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn were headlining the pictures. Yet while the plots are the same, the characters have become increasingly broad and shrill and largely unsympathetic. No offense to her, but I don’t watch most Katherine Heigl movies and fervently hope that she will find her seemingly (but inevitably not) mythical Mr. Right by the end of the picture. They aren’t all bad though; there are some unique filmmakers and writers who have tried to inject some real juice into the genre. These efforts are usually made in the realm of independent cinema. As valiant as some of these efforts are, even the indie rom-com has fallen into conventions of being twee, and featuring know-it-all , tortured protagonists, finding love against the backdrop of a killer soundtrack sponsored by Pitchfork Magazine. And then there’s the truly breathtaking and innovative stuff like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Celeste and Jesse Forever is somewhere in the middle.
I will say this: The film, directed by Lee Toland Krieger, has an intriguing premise that sets it apart from standard fare right from the get. The titular characters Celeste and Jesse (played by Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg) are best friends. They hang out all of the time, share their deepest secrets, even have comedic “bits” that befuddle their other friends. In most films of this variety, the filmmakers would have taken the standard road and placed the characters into a coy "will they or won’t they" situation. But the scriptwriters, of which actress Jones is one, add an interesting twist to Celeste and Jesse’s relationship: They’re in the middle of a divorce. The relationship has happened, and it’s over. They’re just handling the divorce extraordinarily well, that is, until Jesse starts a relationship with a one night stand he impregnates. Celeste doesn’t take to the news particularly well. Is she losing a best friend? Or is she losing her soul mate?
The film doesn’t clearly define this, and that’s a plus. Nothing is spelled out literally. Jones and co-screenwriter Will McCormack have cultivated complex characters that don’t have clear motivations and intent. They are utterly human, and trapped in situations that will have enormous and profound effects on the people they will become. Jones is refreshingly unafraid to give herself the character who handles the maturity of the relationship with the least, well, maturity. Her Celeste suffers something of a personal breakdown in the face of Jesse’s new commitment, one that jeopardizes the friendship. But thanks to writing that leans upon ambiguity, maybe her breakdown isn’t entirely unjustified.
The film benefits not only from her screenwriting, but from her performance as well. Jones is something of a revelation here. She has made her career to this point as being the pretty face on two critical darling television shows in “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.” I’m not trying to insinuate that she has yet to display talent, but her character on “Parks and Rec” is usually the least interesting. Here, she displays real wit and charm, yet entirely vulnerable. She bravely mines Celeste’s flaws, all the while making her sympathetic and fun to watch.
Jones makes up a lot of what is good in the film. Of course, she is not the only person listed in the end credits. The script is funny and incisive; Krieger’s direction of it is dull and pedestrian. His visual styling hardly differentiates from the mediocre rom-coms that flood the multiplex every February. “Saturday Night Live” star Samberg is fine, if unspectacular as Jesse. And if you’re looking for truly unspectacular and borderline terrible, look no further than Elijah Wood as Celeste’s gay best friend and co-worker (no, they couldn’t avoid that cliché in the scripting process). He is clearly having fun; I was clearly banging my head against the back of my seat whenever he recited a line of awkward dialogue.
Still, Celeste and Jesse is a couple worth spending time with. They’re friends that have their flaws, and certainly you don’t want to be around them all of the time. But the occasional hangout is certainly not out of the question.