Saturday, September 01, 2012

CELESTE & JESSE: Our latest anti-rom com couple

CELESTE & JESSE FOEVER (Dir. Lee Toland Krieger, 2012)

Looks like another anti-rom com to me. Here we have Parks and Recreation’s Rashida Jones and SNL’s Andy Samberg as a Los Angeles couple who are getting a divorce, yet they are still inseparable. This greatly annoys their friends, Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen, who are engaged, we learn at an opening restaurant dinner scene, in which Jones and Samberg do silly German accents, and giggle to each other.

We get the picture shortly afterwards that Jones is the responsible successful career woman, and Samberg is the underachieving artsy man-child, who would fit right in to a Judd Apatow movie. Samberg wants to reconcile, and that doesn’t seem so unlikely, as Jones is obviously hesitant to move on, but things get complicated when Samberg finds out that a woman he had a fling with (Rebecca Dayan) is pregnant.

Sounds like a rom com set-up, right? But hold on, the smart screenplay, co-written by Jones and Will McCormack (who also appears in the film as a pot dealer named Skillz), has better a more realistic sense to it. Adding to that is Lee Toland Krieger’s swift direction which gives it a slices-of-life feel.

The film is told from Jones’ point of view, and it’s an appealingly self-deprecating point of view. Her exchanges with a possible new suitor (Chris Messina - no stranger to anti-rom coms as he was just in RUBY SPARKS), refreshingly display that these are layered characters, not caricatures. So much so that when Messina asks Jones “You wanna be right, or you wanna be happy?” it doesn’t come off as a contrived line - it feels as natural and believable as just about everything else on screen.

Maybe there are some superfluous elements, such as Elijah Wood as a co-worker of Jones who seems to know he’s only there to be a saucy gay friend (especially since he says “Sorry, I was trying to be your saucy gay friend”), and Emma Roberts as a snotty pop star client Jones has to deal with, but they don’t get in the way of the emotional pull at all.

With the right balance of laughs and touching moments, CELESTE & JESSE FOREVER is an effective movie mediation on how difficult it can be to move on.

It’s also time well spent with a couple of up and coming talents. It’s nice to see that Samberg can dial back the excessive wackiness (don’t get me wrong – I love him on SNL and HOT ROD is actually a very funny film), and show off some dramatic chops, and Jones gets a choice chance to carry a movie in her first leading role (her smart parts in THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE MUPPETS barely hinted at her range).

I believe that BRIDESMAIDS started a trend in re-thinking the tired rom com formulas, (though that was a pretty outlandish and fairly non-realistic take on the genre) and films like this are going to be more and more welcome. Like last spring’s FRIENDS WITH KIDS, this is a enjoyable addition to the anti-rom com community.

More later...

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