The proverbial romantic comedy or rom-com has become an increasingly difficult and cliched genre to pull off, but somehow actors/writers Rashida Jones and Will McCormack have hit all the right notes with Celeste and Jesse Forever, a winning and beautifully told film that is both refreshingly honest and delightfully funny.
Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) have been best friends, lovers for half their lives, and have been married for the past 6 years. But Celeste is tired of Jesse’s lack of ambition and inherent laziness. In addition, their engaged friends Beth (Ari Graynor) and Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen) are annoyed and disturbed that a couple in the middle of a divorce is acting so cutesy And despite the sources of friction that still show up occasionally, they remain best friends, even if they do seem like they should inevitably be pulled back toward each other. At least, it seems that way until Celeste returns from a tour to promote her new book; the two weeks apart have changed the landscape considerably. He’s met an old flame who’s pregnant with his child and she’s still clinging on to the hope that the couple will get back together.
Director Lee Toland Krieger has a keen visual eye, as his lending of Los Angeles, possibly the most filmed city on the planet is bathed with rich vibrant color. Even typical landmarks, such as the Disney Concert Hall, look more visually alluring than usual, and the city becomes an integral component of a film rich in character. This is a very textured film, partly due to the sharp and wry script by Jones and McCormack as well as Krieger’s fluid and pact direction. It’s rare to find a romantic comedy that looks as beautiful and works as well as this.
Jones clearly created for herself a character full of flaws and insecurities because they’re fun to play. She’s not exactly a warm and sympathetic character whose cynicism is her ultimate downfall. But she grows on us and we want her to grow and chsnge which she does, eventually, if not reluctantly. The actress, best known for her work on TV’s Parks and Recreation, is a keen observer on the pitfalls of human behavior. This is her first script and should continue as a screenwriter. She’s also an infectious actor, and plays Celeste with gusto and emotional depth.
Samberg, also seen in the unfortunate That’s my Boy, complements Jones which makes one wonder how this couple lasted so long. His Jesse is less defined and Samberg is more low key and less interesting an actor than his costar, which really is the film’s one failing. But he’s appealing and natural enough and it’s easy to believe in the character’s own failings.
Emma Roberts steals the film in a otherwise extraneous subplot revolving around a spoiled and seemingly unintelligent teen pop diva, and the delightful Ari Graynor shines as the best friend.
Celeste and Jesse Forever is hardly groundbreaking by any means, but it takes a formula and gives it added depth and style. With a sharp well observed script and it’s beautiful direction, commercial prospects are very high for this Sony Classics release. It’s a sheer, exuberant delight.