Aug 5, 2012

Celeste and Jesse Forever

Kudos to Rashida Jones for co-writing and starring in one of the few truly engaging romantic comedies of recent times. What has been passing for romantic comedy in Hollywood lately is mostly inane drivel about women wanting to get married, fighting to get married, and being total ditzes. There are no real or realistic relationships in those movies: they are so "high concept" that they have no resemblance to life (with the exception of Bridesmaids, which is a send up of the genre and at the same time the mother of all those hapless marriage comedies. Yet it is still a bromedy, but with women). What are considered chick flicks are actually a bane for women, but they keep making them and women keep taking them, since they have no other choice (unless they want to sit through yet another installment of overgrown children battling evil in tights and muscle suits, which is fast becoming a superhuman yawn).
And so, Celeste and Jesse Forever, a wise comedy about the end of love, comes as a breath of fresh air. A lot is right with this movie, starting with the subtle, heartfelt writing by Jones and co-actor Will McCormack, which eases gently between the sense of real loss and very funny comedy. It has little vulgarity and none of that tiresome staple of recent American comedies, the gross out factor. Instead, it is smart and winning, extremely well directed by Lee Toland Krieger, who makes the balance between pain and fun seem effortless. This is not a comedy in the vein of Bridesmaids which is like an automatic weapon of jokes. This is a more realistic take on male-female relationships, and it is very satisfying.
Jones (Celeste) and Andy Samberg, who is actually kinda sexy in the role of Jesse, have great chemistry together. All the character roles are nicely played, particularly by Ari Graynor as Celeste's best friend, Emma Roberts as a manufactured pop star, and Chris Messina as a potential suitor. The only one who seems like a fish out of water is Elijah Wood, who is neither here nor there as Celeste's gay boss. Los Angeles plays an important secondary role as the culture in which the characters try to fit in, all well observed and very funny. And even though there are a couple of holes in the story, they are forgiven in the name of a comedy that does not shy away from pain or real emotions.
I will not go into the plot details (which you probably already know) because one of the nicest twists in the movie involves the relationship status of the two main characters. Celeste and Jesse Forever is a bittersweet story about relationships that fizzle out for all kinds of personal reasons; even if the love is still there, people have to move on. One could say that the premise is the reverse of When Harry Met Sally; instead of two friends who finally become lovers, this goes the other way around. I can't remember this topic being the subject of an American film since Paul Mazursky's An Unmarried Woman, but I hope that Celeste and Jesse Forever opens the door for a much needed resucitation of romantic comedies in American films, a lovely genre that has been unfairly mauled in recent times.

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