August 28, 2012

A Real Romantic Comedy

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When one goes to see a movie with a title like Celeste and Jesse Forever, one expects that Celeste and Jesse will be together forever. Yet the film, co-written by and starring Rashida Jones of Parks and Recreation, is actually about a divorce.

The audience doesn’t know this until about five minutes into the film. It opens with a photomontage of Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) along to a perky Lily Allen song, “Littlest Things.” We see the couple laughing and singing along, and then follow them as they go on a double date with friends from college.

It is only as they are deciding what to order (in German accents) that we learn that they are in the middle of a divorce. Both of them are attempting to remain friends, despite the problems in the relationship just under the surface.  But of course it doesn’t take too long for those issues to reveal themselves. Celeste and Jesse both are forced to examine themselves and move on.

The movie is really about Celeste’s journey. Though we learn she was the one who asked for the divorce, she is definitely not over him. We see her taking up different hobbies, throwing herself into her work and going on some truly awful and hilarious dates. One of the suitors is played by Chris Messina, who is wonderful in this movie. As a side-note, Messina’s character is a Cornell alum.

I would classify Celeste and Jesse Forever as a romantic comedy, because it is about a romance, and it is a comedy. Yet, this film does not adhere to the stereotypes or formula of that genre. The whole back-story is not laid out right at beginning, and most of it isn’t laid out at all but left for the audience to infer. Similarly, the ending, while still satisfying, is not a “happily ever after” with every loose knot tied in a bow.

There are none of the stock characters like the “career-obsessed art-gallery owner who needs learn to loosen up” that are usually found in Rom Coms. Similarly, epic romantic gestures are absent. There are no grand professions of love during the objection section of a wedding. The gestures they make are small, meaningful ones like a reference to an inside joke. Jones and her writing partner, Will McCormack (also in the film), did a wonderful job of creating real people, not caricatures.

And although there are serious themes threaded throughout the film and it’s ultimately about the pain of a break-up, Celeste and Jesse Forever is hilarious. It’s not joke after joke after joke, but it consistently amuses. One of my favorite parts of the film, which is never actually mentioned in dialogue, is that the law firm handling the divorce is called Stein, Weinberg, Steinberg & Jimenez.

Jones’ acting is just as good as her writing. She is best known for playing the amiable friend in movies like I Love You, Man and Parks and Recreation, but Celeste isn’t all that likable. I want her life — namely her clothes, shoes, house, job and friends, but I don’t want to be her. Jones does a fantastic job of communicating Celeste’s flaws while also making her relatable. She behaves rationally, and when she doesn’t, her emotions make sense.

Samberg too demonstrates a maturity that SNL fans are not used to seeing in him. I certainly hope that he continues to take roles such as these, where he can be quirky and funny like we want him to be, but also an adult. Other cast members include Elijah Wood, who plays Celeste’s awkward co-worker who attempts to set her up with some interesting characters, and Emma Roberts, who plays a teen pop-star. Celeste describes Robert’s character, in another favorite moment of the movie, as “a vagina and a haircut.” Chris Pine also makes a hysterical cameo appearance.

My one tiny issue with Celeste and Jesse Forever was that parts of the film dragged, however, even that was ameliorated by the fact that it was constantly visually interesting (both from a technical standpoint and a design one).

Most romantic comedies do not end with a divorce, but Celeste and Jesse Forever is not like most romantic comedies. For one thing, it is good. For another, it’s about real people facing real problems and thus doesn’t alienate 50 percent of its audience. Celeste and Jesse Forever proves that Rom Com is not a synonym for Chick Flick.

I look forward to seeing more of Jones’ and McCormack’s work — especially their next project, a film adaptation of a comic book series called Frenemy of the State written by Jones. It is about a young socialite who doubles as a spy for the CIA.  But until then, I can most certainly make do with this charming and touching love story about a divorce and friendship that is without question my favorite movie of the summer.

Original Author: Julia Moser