Celeste & Jesse Forever-attachment0

Celeste & Jesse Forever

Movie Information

The Story: A divorcing couple try to remain best friends — with somewhat predictable results. The Lowdown: A clever attempt at making a self-aware romantic comedy that falls short of its desires. It makes for an occasionally pleasing diversion, but ultimately means less than it intended.
Score:

Genre: Romantic Comedy Drama
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Starring: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Chris Messina, Ari Graynor, Erich Christian Olsen, Elijah Wood
Rated: R

I have struggled with my feelings on Celeste & Jesse Forever for days — and what I’ve mostly concluded is that I admire the attempt more than I actually like the movie. That was also my initial reaction. What I’ve been tussling with is why?  My initial feeling was that Andy Samberg isn’t up to the heavy lifting of even light drama, but that wasn’t quite it. Then there are the film’s far too frequent ourbursts of Samberg and Rashida Jones engaging in “cute” couples’ private jokes (like wanking a tube of lip balm). This was nearer the mark. In fact, when one character had an outburst over the two of them doing some really unfunny, cloying private routine with a menu, I felt the same way — but not for the same reason, it turned out. As nauseating as this stuff was, that wasn’t quite it. I also flirted with the idea that I was just too old to be comfortable with it all. Then it hit me — the whole thing and the characters are just plain too “LA” for me to relate to.  It may not even be real LA — it might be the movie variety — but that’s it.

And that’s too bad, because there’s a good bit to admire in both Lee Toland Krieger’s direction and in the screenplay by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack. That remains true, despite the things that keep me from actually embracing Celeste & Jesse. The basic idea of a couple — Jones and Samberg as the title characters — going through a divorce while remaining the best of friends is interesting enough, despite the fact that how well this won’t work out is a foregone conclusion. But what’s more interesting than that is the film’s attempt at playing with romantic-comedy conventions. For example, there’s Elijah Wood as Celeste’s business partner and best friend, who occasionally tries — not very successfully — to be her rom-com, kooky, gay best friend. (It’d be better if a similar gag hadn’t been explored with Alan Arkin’s police captain trying to conform to movie type nearly 20 years ago in So You Married an Axe Murderer. It’s still a nice touch, even if it’s not as original as it thinks it is.)

What makes the film fresher still is the way it implicitly tackles the whole man-boy business that’s been infesting the movies since the advent of Judd Apatow. It doesn’t exactly savage the idea (you’ll have to wait for Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse for that), but in a very real sense Jesse is the slacker man-boy the morning after. In the cold light of day, this emotionally-stunted, fun-loving, surfer dude might still be cute, but he’s also more than a little tiresome as a life partner. The problem with the film’s approach to this is that it too often wants to reduce the dilemma to surface concerns (Celeste bemoans the fact that he doesn’t even own a pair of dress shoes or have a checking account). Plus, I’m not entirely convinced there’s any improvement in his turning into a pretentious herbivore (to please a new girlfriend) who enthuses about the quality of the seaweed at a restaurant. Still, it’s nice to see the issue addressed in some manner.

In the end, it’s a film that tries to be something more than “just another indie romantic comedy,” but never wholly succeeds. It’s not a bad movie. In fact, it’s a pretty good movie in many ways, but it has fewer cogent things to say about relationships than such fantasticated — and less self-aware — recent films as Safety Not Guaranteed and Ruby Sparks. It’s worth a look, but it’s nowhere near as clever and hip as it tries to be. Rated R for language, sexual content and drug use

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

16 thoughts on “Celeste & Jesse Forever

  1. Edwin Arnaudin

    Watched FRIENDS WITH KIDS this morning. It and CELESTE have somewhat similar ambitions in terms of comedy and depicting modern relationships, but FRIENDS is the greater overall success. Better writing, acting, and directing. Plus, NYC > LA.

  2. Edwin Arnaudin

    Amazing how much difference one casting decision makes.

  3. Ken Hanke

    In all fairness, I don’t think even Jim Sturgess could keep that cute-cute couple stuff from being mildly nauseating.

  4. Big Al

    I know this wasn’t the point of the film, but I cannot help but wonder how the hypocrisy of our perception of gender roles contributed to the setup of their relationship, to wit:

    How different would this relationship have progressed if the MAN had the successful professional career and allowed (read:subsidized) the WOMAN to stay home and pursue her art? It seems to me this happens quite often and with little comment or critique.

    But when the gender roles are reversed, the stay-at-home artist husband, is reduced to an irresponsible “man-boy” who is expected to grow up and get a job.

  5. Ken Hanke

    You raise an interesting point, though the film stacks the deck by presenting the character as scarcely if ever actually working at his art. Of course, the film was co-written by a woman. Then again, the man-boy is primarily a construct of male screenwriters.

    Interestingly, I’ve known more stay-at-home male artists than female ones — by a substantial margin. Of course, the man-boy is usually defined more by holding onto his teenage obsessions and not by being supported while he attempts an artistic enterprise. There’s a taste of that here when our hero dashes off because of a surf report.

    The question is…what would define the female equivalent? She can’t just stay at home to pursue her art, she must also be somehow stuck in her adolescence.

  6. Xanadon't

    Then again, the man-boy is primarily a construct of male screenwriters.

    Or male writers, period. Nick Hornby immediately comes to mind. Or that jackass, Tucker Max.

  7. Xanadon't

    Although I think Ann Beattie has tackled the phenomenon with some ability, come to think of it.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I confess the only Hornby I’ve read is About a Boy, the only thing I know about Tucker Max is I’ve been warned not to read him, and I’ve simply never read Anne Beattie.

  9. Xanadon't

    High Fidelity is probably still my favorite but his latest, Juliet, Naked, really impressed me. Especially after A Long Way Down lived up to its title.

    Flipping through a copy of something or another Tucker Max for 80 or 90 seconds at an airport newsstand was enough for me.

    Aside from a short story or two, Chilly Scenes of Winter is as deep as my Beattie knowledge goes. I seem to link it in my mind with the movie Beautiful Girls. So yes, some humor present, but a more relatively sober treatment of the 30-something male fuck-up.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I really ought to read more of him, but I’ve set myself the task of reading the entire works of Mark Twain. This is kind of time consuming.

  11. Xanadon't

    I’ve set myself the task of reading the entire works of Mark Twain. This is kind of time consuming.

    A lofty aspiration and one that I ought to try on for myself someday. Have you gotten to Political Economy or Journalism in Tennessee yet? Two short stories not to be missed.

  12. Ken Hanke

    A lofty aspiration and one that I ought to try on for myself someday.

    I went through Dickens first, which I admit I found easier.

    Have you gotten to Political Economy or Journalism in Tennessee yet? Two short stories not to be missed.

    No, those have not crossed my path, but I’m only about five books in, so it’s early days yet.

  13. Xanadon't

    If at any point you care to borrow (have) a paperback edition of The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain it’s currently sitting on my shelves.

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