Celeste and Jesse Forever, a charming little oddball romantic comedy with dramatic punch, really took me by surprise. While I am willing to give anything starring the lovely Rashida Jones (I Love You Man, The Office) a go, I didn’t expect it to resonate as strongly as it did, nor be so entertaining. Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samburg) have been best friends for a long time, but after six years of marriage they have begun to realise that it’s just not working out. Celeste is a workaholic, a successful trend analyser who runs her own media company with her partner, Scott (Eljah Wood), while Jesse is an unemployed artist who has moved into the studio at the rear of the house. In what can only be described as a peculiar relationship, they hang out regularly, car pool and still mess about like they’re together. However, after some time without any development in their relationship, Jesse decides to start dating. Celeste pretends to be happy for him, but when he proves her pessimism wrong and finds himself in a stable relationship before she does, she spirals into a state of confusion, contempt and self-pity, struggling to accept losing him forever.
Needless to say, Rashida Jones is front and centre here, having written a complex character for herself that takes advantage of her comedy skills, but also asks for dramatic versatility. Celeste is two parts sweet and adorable and one part selfish bitch and cultural snob. As Emma Roberts’ ditzy teen pop star puts it, “she has contempt prior to investigation.”
She overcomes her loneliness by convincing herself that she wants to be alone. Even when she jumps off the edge, we hope that she will bounce back, repair her friendship with Jesse and get on with her life. Rashida Jones is captivating and it is hard to take your eyes off her.
Chris Messina, like Adam Scott, seems to be in everything, and constantly as the hunky best friend/romantic interest. Celeste catches his eye at yoga and though she reads him like a book, she starts to warm to his likeable charms. Elijah Wood plays gay, McCormack plays stoner and Samberg takes a leap out of his comfort zone and impresses in an emotional and subdued role. He creates a character we care about and relate to – an all-round nice guy who is struggling to find a direction in life.
What Jones, McCormack and Toland Kreiger have managed to do so well, with the use of intimate photography and timely montage, is replicate life. Everything we see, whether it is Celeste awkwardly skulking around Jesse’s new home after dropping off some of his things, or Jesse sitting around and chatting with his mates about his new responsibilities, feels so genuine. The conversations between all of the characters feel so natural, and we recognise personal nuances through these exchanges.
Though it is laugh-out-loud funny at times – this is also quite a depressing film. These two young people are separated but are “still best friends”. Are they kidding themselves? This shouldn’t happen. Their anxieties and problems (individual work pressures and balancing a career and personal happiness) that add complexity to modern relationships make them very relatable.
Praise must go to Jones for writing such an excellent role and delivering a strong performance. This impressive romantic dramedy offers up an obscure relationship that shouldn’t work, and yet because of the appealing characters, we buy it. When that situation is turned upside down, in an inventive way, it becomes an affecting character study that manages to avoid the usual clichés. As a result, Celeste and Jesse Forever feels grounded in a reality we become wholeheartedly immersed in.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22