Sundance Review: Celeste And Jesse Forever Is A Low-Key Charmer

By Katey Rich 2012-01-21 18:58:35discussion comments
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Rashida Jones has shown talent as an actress for years now, but she often gets stuck in straight-man supporting roles, whether on The Office and Parks & Recreation or in I Love You, Man and The Social Network. With Celeste & Jesse Forever, Jones is taking matters into her own hands, co-writing the script with another actor, Will McCormack, who's also got a long line of supporting roles behind him. We meet Jones's Celeste and Jesse (Andy Samberg) as they start taking the meaning of the title to a whole new level, maintaining a deep and affectionate friendship despite the fact that they're ending their six-year marriage.

That might seem like a preposterous or overly quirky concept-- the anti-romantic comedy, you could say-- but Celeste & Jesse really sells it from the beginning, letting us see Celeste and Jesse's easy rapport and inside jokes before we realize they've already split up. Their goal of an easy divorce and a continued friendship is impossible, of course, but they're both trying to be good to each other, something that's rare enough in actual romantic comedies, much less stories of divorce. Though the movie is well-aware of the conventional romantic comedy three-act structure, and makes nods to it now and then-- a climactic wedding toast, a montage or two-- the story unfolds in a shaggier and more realistic way, with Celeste throwing herself into work while Jesse hopes for a reconciliation, and then one big twist forcing them on to decidedly separate paths.

Though Samberg nicely handles his dramatic scenes and eliminates all the shtick you might expect from SNL, Jones is the clear standout, playing Celeste first as a somewhat typical career-driven 30-something, but then slowly falling apart as the divorce takes a toll she never expected. Whether getting far too drunk at a bridal shower and falling asleep in the pool, or accepting a bizarre hug from a stranger in a bear costume, Jones throws herself into Celeste's downward spiral with a lack of vanity and an obvious commitment to the character she's created. The material isn't exactly as realistic as Lee Toland Krieger's natural direction would imply-- this is still a polished Los Angeles full of attractive people and opportunities for physical comedy-- but Celeste's broken heart is real, as are many of the stupid and ugly ways she copes with it.

Celeste & Jesse Forever's meandering story means it feels a bit longer than its lean 89 minutes, but there's enough good stuff in there to be worth it, from Jones and McCormack's sharp comic writing to brief but memorable supporting turns from Emma Roberts (as a tarted-up pop star) and Elijah Wood as Celeste's gay coworker. We could have waited a long time for someone else to write a female character as fucked-up and funny and endearing as Celeste, but it took two actors who've played all the bad roles out there to finally create one for Jones that's this good.

Keep checking back to this page for all of my ongoing Sundance coverage
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