Review: CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER, When One Still Loves and the Other Moves On
Rashida Jones shines brightly in Celeste and Jesse Forever, ably changing the channels of her personality -- from affectionately romantic to understandably disgusted to confusingly befuddled to amusingly resigned, on and on and on -- almost at the click of a button.
She's rarely had the opportunity to display so many facets of a character (and her awesome range from balls-out comedy to melodrama to melancholia) in one role. She provides able support on the current U.S. broadcast TV show Parks and Recreation on a weekly basis (and before that in The Office and Boston Public); in recent years she has become a welcome presence in movies such as I Love You, Man and Our Idiot Brother, and supplied needed moral ballast in The Social Network.
Here, though, she's working from an original screenplay she co-wrote with fellow actor Will McCormack -- their first produced script -- and, as she has acknowledged in recent interviews, she is playing to her strengths as an actress. In that, the screenplay shares a fellowship with Sylvester Stallone's for Rocky (and others) and the colloboration by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting; all three scripts were born from a fervent desire to showcase very specific individual talents.
While Celeste and Jesse Forever does not rise to the level of Rocky, nor even to that of Good Will Hunting, it does place Jones, as an actress, in a 'put up or shut up' position. The good news is that she fully delivers, giving a wonderfully nuanced performance that is on target whenever she's on screen, whether the moment is comic, dramatic, or somewhere in between.
The news that isn't so good has to do with the other characters in the movie and the narrative itself.
It is, alas, a romantic comedy/drama in which we can only truly sympathize with one member of the couple. Celeste (Jones) and her long-time partner Jesse (Andy Samberg) have decided to break up, even though, from outward appearances, they still appear to be together, as demonstrated in the opening sequence with their best friends Beth (Ari Graynor) and Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen).
For reasons that are not immediately apparent, though, Celeste and Jesse are getting a divorce, and must steel themselves to pursue new relationships. Once she gets back in the dating game, however, Celeste discovers that the rules have changed since she was single, and not in any way that she likes. The men that she meets, in a hilarious montage of increasingly awkward dates, turn her off more than they turn her on.
Even when Celeste meets Paul (Chris Messina), a great guy who treats her well, she finds herself comparing him unfavorably with Jesse. Naturally enough, she's rationalizing her own fears and insecurities, as well as idealizing her relationship with Jesse, remembering only the good and easy times, as opposed to digging into the fissures that developed over time and examining their contributing causes in her own personality.
Celeste's feelings become more complicated when Jesse seems to have struck gold with his new relationship, one that shows promise of blossoming into marriage much sooner than Celeste had anticipated. Her unresolved emotions play havoc with her personal life and quickly bleed into her professional career in brand management, despite the sympathetic leanings of her boss Scott (Elijah Wood).
But then the issues with the (non-Celeste) characters -- especially that of Jesse -- and the narrative begin asserting themselves. As written, Jesse needs to be a terrific guy with a measurable degree of artistic heft (he's an actual artist, after all)); try as he might, however, Samberg isn't up to the dramatic requirements of the role. He can flash his sweet puppy-dog eyes, and display a big smile, but a simple frown doesn't convey anything happening in his soul.
And a crisis that erupts, something to do with Jesse's new client Riley (Emma Roberts), a notorious teen pop star, isn't fleshed out convincingly, feeling like an afterthought added to patch a plot hole. Director Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind) doesn't appear to add much to the scenario; David Lanzenberg served as director of photography, using a palette that is decidedly non-glamorous, and inadvertently contributing to the routine nature of the picture as a whole.
Mostly, Celeste and Jesse Forever whets the appetite to see what else Rashida Jones (and writing partner Will McCormack) have up their sleeves. More starring roles for Jones would be a great start.
Celeste and Jesse Forever opens today in New York and Los Angeles in limited release before expanding throughout Canada and the U.S. in the coming weeks.