Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012)

The one thing that seems to plague romantic comedies of any era is their inability to take what is a very localised and personalised scenario of love gained and lost, and broaden its appeal without reverting to drawing water from the well of cliché. Oftentimes, a sense of relatability attempts to be achieved through the presentation of how a filmmaker or writer believes a romantic scenario should play out, or rather how they assume a majority of viewers see romantic relationships. Woody Allen’s quip about life imitating bad television comes to mind as the very notion of romantic comedy tropes begin to interject into our everyday lives. Thus, audiences seem fit to consume that which they believe represents them, but who is the chicken and who is the egg? The easiest and simplest way to communicate a sense of earnestness and truth in this genre is to take that which is personal and find the essential elements within each scenario rather than the other way around. It doesn’t happen very often (and certainly not in 2012, seeThe Five Year Engagement, Ruby Sparks, etc.), but luckily there are films like Celeste and Jesse Forever that seem to understand that an intimate understanding of one’s self can have the most rewarding appeal.

Celeste and Jesse Forever comes from the pen of its central star Rashida Jones and was also co-written with Will McCormack (who also has a supporting role). Celeste and Jesse (Andy Samberg) are a young married couple who we discover at the films beginning have separated and are soon to be divorced. They still live on the same property and hang out with one another regularly, maintaining a seemingly healthy post-break up relationship. With some help from his drug dealing friend Skillz (Will McCormack), Jesse decides to branch out and re-forms a relationship with Veronica (Rebecca Dayan), a woman he had a one night stand with after finding out she is carrying his child. The film spends most of its time then with Celeste as she struggles to cope with the forced detachment having previously lived in a state of denial. Understandably, this description does sound contrived and the antithesis to that which is described above, and for the first hour the film very much fits this cyclic patterned formula. However, as the weight of the scenario begins to burden its central character, broad strokes become intimate insights and what results is an understated sense of sincerity and maturity.

There are points in the first hour where Celeste and Jesse vent their frustrations over the impossibility of constructing an IKEA cabinet or are both witness to the awkwardness of chance interactions on new dates that are so perfect that it is sickening. Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones seem to share very little chemistry onscreen and initially it seems difficult to comprehend them as a fully functioning couple at all. However, as the film continues we come to see this lack of connectivity as a reflection of the shallow immaturity of their relations. Outside of their sharing of German impressions, obnoxious hand gestures of affection and jointly masturbating any miniature phallic object they can find, they seem to elicit no sense of depth beyond superficial jokes. As this slowly becomes revealed, their awkward performances are instantly shifted into awkward character depictions, driving the film into much more dynamic territory. Through the instances of conflict that arise between the two (and especially from the perspective of Celeste) the film ignites a keen sense of the frailty that pervades all human relationships. The confusion inherent in each partner’s attempts to express themselves and interpret the other half’s intentions becomes central to the direction their relationship takes, as momentary decisions constantly shift consequence. A potential re-kindling between the two after a night of drunken sex turns into thwarted opportunity and embarrassment in the blink of an eye. As the film carries on Celeste (and to a lesser extent Jesse) begins to reflect on the impact of these instantaneous moments and a hinted sense of spiritual resolution begins to emerge, outside of any perfectly rounded narrative closure. It isn’t an ideal resolution, but its open-endedness is sobering and much more pleasing than the exchange of wedding rings or a goofy reconciliation.

Where the film falters (apart from its moments of derivation in its opening hour) is its nestling into familiar stylistic patterns in order to conceal its erratic flow. Notably this isn’t so much an error that lies specific to Celeste and Jesse Forever, but is rather an epidemic that plagues much of modern drama. Director Lee Toland Krieger’s detached, handheld camera bubbles around the frame combined with quick whips and pans that cover up the haphazard and schizophrenic course of events, a fault which lies both in the editing room and comes from diverted attention spans in the cinema. The technique is obviously a valid one and can be utilised to great effect, but in the case of this film it distracts more than it does enhance. Music choices on the other hand act as mood compliments rather than distractions with cuts from artists such as Shabazz Palaces and Joe & Donnie Emerson punctuating emotional beats perfectly. Celeste and Jesse Forever may not be the most satisfying experience of the romantic comedy, but its personal insight and mature observations separate it from the fodder that has become entangled in the films to emerge of late.

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