DVD Review - Celeste and Jesse Forever
The story is about a married couple who is separated and each one trying to live his or her own life away from the other and how either fails or succeeds at that. It's a romantic comedy, so the looming question of whether or not the couple will end up together in the end is the predictable one, but something is learned in the first ten minutes of the film that was such a surprise to me that I feel it would almost be a spoiler if I revealed it.
The surprise subverts or pulls the rug out of that looming question, that romantic comedy trope, and changes the expectation, thus allowing the audience to experience something, premise-wise, that it hasn't experienced since The War of the Roses (1989). Except, Celeste and Jesse Forever isn't as viciously satiric as that Danny Devito film. It also allows writers Rashida Jones and Will McCormack to explore the idea of a married couple on the verge of divorce in a way that is almost a deconstruction of the romantic comedy genre. Yes, Jones and McCormack use the conventions of that genre, but to an end that is in most cases the opposite goal.
Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) stars as Celeste, a published author and a marketing executive or what she prefers to call "trend forecaster" for a company named Pop Form. With a song by British pop singer Lily Allen, we see a photo collage of her six-year relationship and marriage to Jesse, played by Andy Samberg (Saturday Night Live). A bit of trivia, Jones and Samberg both co-starred in the film I Love You, Man (2009). Jesse is an illustrator or a graphic designer who is currently out of work and has no prospects or seeming ambition.
I don't want to say any more about Celeste and Jesse's situation, as I feel it spoils the surprise that it is pulled in the first ten minutes. All I will say is that what follows after that initial dime of time is a story and collection of scenes that seem to be inspired from Sex and the City, Judd Apatow, Woody Allen and so many of these Sundance Film Festival romances. Yet, Jones and McCormack only take the best of all and blends them seamlessly together into a hilarious and powerful character study and what could be considered a cultural touchstone, all set to an amazing soundtrack, which includes Sunny Levine who I think is related to Rashida Jones.
The supporting cast is great. Ari Graynor (10 Years and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) and Eric Christian Olsen (Not Another Teen Movie and The Thing) play Beth and Tucker, Celeste and Jesse's best friends. Beth and Tucker are themselves engaged to be married. Despite being behind in the marriage game, they become voices of reason for Celeste and Jesse. Chris Messina (Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Julie & Julia) who recently played opposite Rashida Jones in Monogamy (2011) plays Paul, a potential love interest for Celeste whom she meets in Yoga class. Messina is charming and sexy. Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Everything is Illuminated) plays Scott, another marketing executive at Pop Form and Celeste's gay best friend. Emma Roberts (The Art of Getting By and Scream 4) rounds out the cast as Riley Banks, an American pop star, not too far flung from Avril Lavigne or perhaps Britney Spears.
Director Lee Toland Krieger wrangles everyone and every element together brilliantly. He and his cinematography make the film look so beautiful and doesn't play up or glorify Los Angeles. He and his editor cut it so smoothly and elegantly. The photo collage at the very top is an early indication of that elegance. It's like Krieger took selected stills from a whole other, fully-realized movie and perfectly whittled it down to a few minutes, giving us such a rich back story for Celeste and Jesse, that perfectly encapsulates their past and perfectly sets the stage for the events in the movie, the likes of which I haven't seen done this well since the opening to Pixar's Up (2009).
While Krieger handles the romantic parts of the film with a smoothness and elegance, he also handles the crude bits rather well too. There is a masturbation moment and what Celeste refers to as the "Dirty Sanchez" for inanimate objects. While some filmmakers would be blunt about these things, Krieger balances these comedic bits with aplomb.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language, sex and drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 31 mins.