Looking Back at 2010s Films: Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)

1 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

I want to start a new series of mini-review posts celebrating the films of the 2010s that I truly enjoy. I’ll call it Runners Up for the Best Films of 2010s…or maybe just the films of the 2010s that I truly enjoy, like I said.

I’ll start with an indie dramedy from 2012 called “Celeste and Jesse Forever.”

It’s the film that made John Lassester reach out to writers Rashida Jones & Will McCormack to write the screenplay for Toy Story 4…only to have the script rewritten by frequent Pixar writer Andrew Stanton (while Jones and McCormack apparently still share Story credit)…I don’t think I’ll ever understand the studio system.

Anyway, “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is a film about what brings people together in relationships and what pulls them apart. Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) are the best of friends, and they love each other very much–they even get married. (In a clever opening, we see the progression of their relationship through a montage of still photographs.) Seems like their love could last forever. But nope. As the story begins, we learn they’re separated–in fact, they’re getting divorced. Though, they’re hardly separated–they still spend a lot of time together, are still great friends, and Jesse even lives in the guest-room garage just a few feet away from the house! They don’t find it weird (in fact, they agree that it makes their relationship stronger)–their friends do, though. When one of them asks Celeste what went wrong, Celeste explains that it’s as simple as just being two different people–Celeste is a very driven businesswoman and Jesse is a slacker. Everything changes when Jesse reunites with an old flame and starts getting serious with her and changing his life around. Celeste feels a new void left behind and decides it’s time to move on and start dating. But it’s not so easy.

There are some things I don’t like about this film. The least of which is sometimes the attempts at shock humor don’t work (other times, it’s very funny). Mostly though, it’s the character of a trashy pop-star played by Emma Roberts–nothing wrong with the actress, it’s just I don’t know why this character is even here. I get that she’s a client of Celeste’s marketing firm and we should get a sense of how Celeste’s job works, but the character is underdeveloped and her interaction with Celeste doesn’t feel nearly as special as the other relationships in the film. There didn’t need to be a whole subplot dedicated to her.

What do I like about the film? There’s a lot I not only like about the film but LOVE about it. For one thing, director Lee Toland Krieger is able to balance a series of tones as one, which is really tricky especially for a “romantic comedy.” (Though, I think I’d call this more of an “anti-romcom,” since it’s less about the meet-cute and more about the break-up.) It’s funny when it needs to be, but more importantly, it’s sweet and heartfelt when it needs to be. It can also be kind of depressing. (After all, Celeste’s character arc is trying to be OK without the man she called her best friend to whom she was married.) One particularly upsetting moment is when Celeste finally snaps at Jesse late in the film, when Jesse finally has his life together, and she asks him the question, “Why didn’t you change for ME?”

Rashida Jones has always been talented, but not many roles have been written the best for her. I think the reason she’s able to portray all kinds of depth in this particular role is that she wrote it herself. Almost as if she thought, “No one’s gonna give me the role I need–I’LL give me the role I need!” And she’s excellent here. And so is Andy Samberg as Jesse, who shows more subtlety than I’d ever expect from one of the funniest people I follow.

And I like the supporting cast as well–I know I picked on Emma Roberts, but there’s also Elijah Wood who scores some laughs as Celeste’s boss/confidant (who wants to be the “saucy-gay-friend” type but Celeste won’t let him play it), Ari Graynor & Eric Christian Olsen who are VERY funny as Celeste and Jesse’s soon-to-be-married friends (though Graynor’s outburst at the beginning is a bit much), Will McCormack (Jones’ co-writer) as consistently-stoned friend “Skillz,” Chris Messina as a guy who keeps trying to hit on Celeste, and Rebecca Dayan as Jesse’s sweet, new girlfriend.

(Oh, and Chris Pine shows up at one point…I don’t know why he was there, but I’m glad for some reason.)

“Celeste and Jesse Forever” is an honest film about how love isn’t everything, as powerful as it may be–and while it’s good when it’s funny, it’s great when it’s bittersweet. And I hope that after the film ended, Celeste took hold of a chance with someone new…someone better than the men we’ve already seen her date.

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