Celeste and Jesse Forever
2012, 92mins, 15
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Writer (s): Will McCormack, Rashida Jones
Cast includes: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Ari Graynor, Chris Messina
UK Release Date: 7th December 2012
“Celeste & Jesse Forever” is a remarkable film; understated for sure, but massively impressive in its commitment to the depiction of a complex, adult relationship. Break-up films are nothing new, but this entry into the sub-genre comes complete with an authenticity few other examples boast, topped off by a pair of sensational performances courtesy of leads Rashida Jones (who also penned the marvellous screenplay) and former SNL buffoon Andy Samberg. The picture moves beyond simply detailing the typical repercussions of romantic fallout, instead latching its talons onto the notion of losing your best-friend and most trusted confidante in the process. Fuelled with laughter and a painful but rewarding emotional catharsis, the movie is an unbridled joy, an ode to a time before vacuous Katherine Heigl vehicles became the accepted norm for rom-com product.
Jesse (Andy Samberg) and Celeste (Rashida Jones) have been BFFs since school, and remain so, despite an impinging divorce settlement. Their friends remain uncomfortable with the pair’s proximity following the failure of their marital gambit, but it’s abundantly clear that slacker Jesse and successful industry analyst Celeste aren’t quite ready to let go. After a misjudged carnal encounter, Celeste and Jesse are driven apart, Celeste’s rejection pushing Jesse into a state of angered disappointment, leading to him pursuing an intense rebound relationship with an elegant acquaintance (Rebecca Dayan). Out of the blue Jesse confesses that he is to be a father, leaving Celeste in a state of regret and turmoil, the emptiness left by Jesse’s departure causing her to question all elements of life, including business obligations with a seemingly vacant pop star (Emma Roberts, continuing to display little screen presence). She begins to pine for the affection of her soul mate, despite interest from a charming interloper (Chris Messina).
Rashida Jones is the unsung hero of this mini-masterpiece, the actress bringing a sharp, erudite script and wonderfully sympathetic central performance to the party. The writing suggests an artist influenced by the better works of Nora Ephron, channelling her focus into the curious and identifiable dynamic, sparking likable but flawed characters off each other for maximum dramatic potency. Of course there are some big laughs too, Jones not neglecting her comedic talents or those of the fellow title star, but it’s the sincerity and ambition which undercuts the involving narrative that surprises most radically. There’s a sweet poignancy and genuine tear-jerker aesthetic to the storytelling in “Celeste & Jesse Forever”, the film balancing a potentially hopeful future against the debilitating sadness concrete finality and lonely perdition can incur among young souls. Heart-breaking, engaging and life-affirming. Just the way a good separation flick should be.
Samberg confidently moves out of his goofy comfort zone here, there’s still silliness within the role, but the comedian asserts genuine pathos and confusion as well. He and Jones share an easy affable chemistry, convincing as a duo hopelessly in love and enamoured with each other, but unable to make it work smoothly alongside their differing lifestyle choices. The supporting cast are pretty solid (aside from the uninspired Roberts), but director Lee Toland Krieger correctly distributes the majority of his creative focus upon the conflicted buddies at the movie’s core. Through his rich and largely unflinching fixation on Celeste and Jesse the film-maker is able to unravel subtle nuances which axe the usual crux of rom-com artifice, deploying other figures in the world to flesh out the anxieties of the detached couple, instead of burdening his magnificently affecting work with unnecessary baggage. For the most part that is. The only major flaw with “Jesse & Celeste Forever” is the mediocre tangential wanderings into Celeste’s professional life, the movie opting to wean out an unconvincing connection with the initially detestable starlet depicted lifelessly by Roberts. True this portion of the piece gives Elijah Wood welcome chance to stretch his comedic muscles, but it also slows the pace and detracts from the gripping main arc.
The movie pulls no punches and remains fully grounded in reality for the duration, with just enough well timed giggles and relatable moments of amusing self-loathing to balance out the wondrously heart wrenching dramatic sweep. It’s a shame this delightful and courageous romance didn't garner more respect last year, because in the right hands I genuinely believe it to be of the same calibre as indie-darling turned sleeper hit “(500) Days of Summer”. That film was engrossing because it bravely staggered into romantic arenas that Hollywood generally overlooks in favour of simple boy meets girl fluff, delivering valuable insights and high quality entertainment value in the process. I for one feel much the same about “Celeste & Jesse Forever”. It’s a magical detour for those seeking rich and enlightened viewing.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013