Friday, September 28, 2012

LOOPER: A Compellingly Crafted Time Travel Thriller

Now playing at nearly every multiplex in Raleigh and the Triangle area:

LOOPER (Dir. Rian Johnson, 2012)

At first, it’s a bit jarring to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt made to look like Bruce Willis via prosthetic makeup. But Gordon-Levitt, has so got Willis’ mannerisms, and soft spoken voice down that the impression works, that is, until the real Willis shows up and it’s a little jarring again. However, it still works.

Set in Kansas City in 2044, Gordon-Levitt, as he tells us in his opening voice-over narration, is a low-level “Looper,” a hit-man who kills people that the mafia in 2074 sends back via illegal time travel technology. To close a looper’s contract, they send back the older version to be killed by their younger selves, and are paid off with gold bars. It’s a job that doesn’t attract “forward thinking people,” Gordon Levitt notes.

A frantic fellow looper (Paul Dano), when confronted with his older self, is unable to “close the loop,” as they call it, he goes into hiding in a floor safe in Gordon-Levitt’s apartment. A bearded wizened and jaded Jeff Daniels, as a gang boss from the future, offers a deal in which if Gordon-Levitt gives up Dano’s location, he can keep all the silver he’s been saving up. Gordon-Levitt takes the deal, but then finds out that his own loop is set to be closed.

Willis is able to escape from his younger self, upon appearing from the future, but not long after that they have a face-to-face at a diner, and Willis speaks of how, in 30 years, his wife (Qing Xu) will be murdered love by a powerful villain called “The Rainmaker.” Willis came back in time to kill the child who will grow up to be this bigwig baddie.

Did you get all that? Yes, it’s a movie in which the convolutions swirl around you, but you can’t help to get caught up in them. Even when the film downshifts from the expected, yet still engrossing action sequences (shoot-ups, chases, fight scenes, etc.), into a quieter second half that takes place on a farm owned by Emily Blunt, who just may be the mother of the future “Rainmaker,” its spell still holds you.

Willis doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, and doesn’t need much, but what he has, like when he talks of the woman whose life he’s trying save, he really sells. Considering his younger self to be a self absorbed junkie, Willis provides a gruff contrast to Gordon-Levitt’s stoic smoothness.

The rest of the well-chosen cast have their moments. Daniels basically has one major speech to give before spending the rest of the movie as an order barking heavy, but he pulls off both superbly.

Blunt, could be seen as a gratuitous love-interest for Gordon-Levitt, yet her frightened eyed delivery is “on,” and it’s fun to see her smoke an invisible cigarette (another thing to look forward to in the future).

A few of Daniels’ thugs are notable too - Noah Segan, as a clumsily trigger happy goon, and Garret Dillahunt as a much more professional assassin.

With its superb sci-fi premise, exemplary effects, and top-notch performances, Rian Johnson, who directed the brilliant BRICK (also starring Gordon-Levitt), and the not-bad THE BROTHERS BLOOM, has compellingly crafted a well above average action thriller. Its ending might feel a little off, but the fact that it doesn’t allow easily for a sequel makes it all the more refreshing.

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As Dracula, Adam Sandler Is Required To Suck


(Dir. Genndy Tartakovsky, 2012)

Those who have been waiting for a new fix of animated Adam Sandler hi-jinks - it’s been ten years since EIGHT CRAZY NIGHTS after all - will surely overdose on his hammy take on Dracula in HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, the new 3D CGI spectacle from the studio that brought you THE SMURFS.

Sandler, who also executive produced, does the typical Bela Lugosi impression for the voice of the famous vampire, except that he denies ever saying “bleh-bleh-bleh,” plays the ukulele, and can bust out a rhyme, you know, if the occasion calls for MC Dracula.

As the owner and creator of the lavish Hotel Transylvania, a vacation place only for monsters, Sandler’s Dracula is preparing for the 118th birthday of his precocious daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), when trouble arrives in the form of an airheaded backpacking teenager named Jonathan (SNL's Andy Samberg).

Dracula does what he can as an overprotective father to shield Mavis from the intruding human, but she feels what screenwriters Peter Baynham, Robert Smigel (a Sandler collaborator since their SNL days), along with director Genndy Tartakovsky who did a re-write, insist on calling a “zing” (love at first site) for the wacky kid. Not sure why, she’s a hundred years older than him and should know better than to fall for such a doofus, but, oh well.

The huge cast of supporting celebrity voices features Frankenstein's Monster (Kevin James) and his wife Eunice (a more annoying than usual Fran Drescher, but that description fits almost everybody here), Wayne and Wanda Werewolf (Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon), and the party-monster Murray the Mummy (Cee Lo Green).

There’s also Griffin the Invisible Man, voiced by Sandler’s old fellow SNL buddy David Spade, who is a good example of how each of the classic creatures are just one joke characters, and the joke isn’t funny in the first place.

In fact none of HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA is funny, despite how energetic and over-the-top it is. It could have something to do with the sizable percentage of pee, poop, and fart jokes that take the place of wit. At least there’s only a few pop culture references, but the ones that are there (a Dave Matthews mention, a viewing of TWILIGHT on an iPad) are huge groaners.

The animation is fine but not especially inspired, and there’s no sense of stakes (I’m not making a vampire joke here) in the story-line, since we know Samberg’s Jonathan is no threat to anybody, and Sandler’s Dracula is really a good guy with a big heart who will see the light. Yawn.

By the way isn’t natural light supposed to kill vampires? The big over-caffeinated chase scene finale takes place in the pure sunlight of the morning, and Dracula only gets a little singed.

The ending has Samberg and Sandler show off their rap skills to a big obnoxious auto-tuned pop song, capping 90 minutes of crap aptly. My nephews (ages 8, 14, and 15), who I took to the screening, said they liked it, but I seriously doubt it will take up much space in their memory.

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Friday, September 21, 2012


(Dir. Robert Lorenz, 2012)

Sure, every critic will mention it, but Clint Eastwood’s embarrassing crazy-old-man-yells-at-chair speech at the RNC a few weeks back doesn’t at all get in the way of his new film being a good old-fashioned cornball crowd-pleaser.

Eastwood, with his crotchetiness played to greater comic effect than say in GRAN TORINO, plays a baseball scout for the Altlanta Braves who is going blind, so he may be in his final season on the job. As his daughter, Amy Adams (also in THE MASTER opening today) joins him on the trip against his wishes, to help out.

Meanwhile, back at the home office, Matt Lillard, as obviously a jerk for the audience to hate, wants Eastwood out of the game, and his boss, a grimacing Robert Patrick, might agree. But luckily Eastwood has a friend in the Braves’ organization in the form of John Goodman pulling for him.

Another friend, Justin Timberlake as a retired pitcher now doing the scouting thing too, runs into Eastwood at a game, and immediately has eyes for Adams.

It’s a comfortable ole baseball glove of a commercial movie, where everything falls exactly in the place you’d expect. With only a few current topical references, its script, by first time screenwriter Randy Brown, feels like it was written in the ‘90s when old people were first becoming troubled by the idea of a computer run world. Clint’s line about the “interwebs” attests to that.

In that way it’s like a gruff counterpoint to last year’s MONEYBALL, in which old school on the spot skills are favored over statistical analysis. So much so that I expected Clint to take a baseball bat to a laptop OFFICE SPACE-style.

TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE, throws no curves story-wise, is full of cheesy clichés, and was completely filmed in Georgia, despite being mostly set in my home-state North Carolina, yet I still found it highly likable.

Eastwood’s growling and grunting through his part is amusingly affecting, and Adams, along with Timberlake both put in warm and fuzzy performances. And if you want your film to be more likable, casting Goodman is always a good idea.

Robert Lorenz, whose first film as director this is after many assistant directing duties, provides Eastwood and co. with a sturdy vehicle that has plenty of cornball charm, and isn’t too sappy. It’s not a home run, but it’s a perfectly pleasant stroll around the bases.

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THE MASTER: A Complicated Yet Beautiful Dream I’m Still Processing

THE MASTER (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)

The impact of the amazing imagery in Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to 2007’s THERE WILL BE BLOOD is immediate. Opening shots of the frothy ocean from above are vividly captured by the camera of cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., as is the following sequence of American soldiers on a tropical beach at the end of World War II. However, the impact of the narrative, as it shapes, isn’t as immediate, for this is a film that viewers will still be processing way after it ends.

Joaquin Phoenix, looking more haggard than usual, plays one of the soldiers, and his chief characteristics are that he’s a horny drunkard. So much so that he can’t keep the department store photographer job he gets shortly after returning to the states, because of the effects of his homemade moonshine. That also leads to the end of his next occupation, as a cabbage picker, when one of his fellow workers swigs too much of Phoenix’s toxic concoction, and may die of poisoning.

Phoenix bolts out of there, at first chased by other pickers, and stows away on a ritzy riverboat where he meets Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the charismatic leader of a new religious movement called “The Cause.” Oh, yeah, in case you haven’t heard – this is the movie that’s supposedly based on Scientology, and Hoffman is allegedly based on writer/Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

It’s impossible not to think about that when Phoenix undergoes intense questioning by Hoffman, i.e. auditing, and when vague yet lofty theological platitudes are tossed around. Hoffman sees through Phoenix, but still takes him on as a protégé. Hoffman’s family, including wife Amy Adams, daughter Ambyr Childers, and son-in-law Rami Malek are skeptical of Phoenix, although it’s obvious Childers has a thing for him, but Hoffman apparently sees something in him that reminds him of his younger self, or, maybe, he just wants him around to make more of that powerful moonshine.

Despite that Phoenix pines for a girl he left behind when he went to war, played by Madisen Beaty in a scene that I’m not sure if is imagined or not, he appears to want to screw every woman in sight. In a party scene hosted at the house of a benefactor played by Laura Dern, Phoenix envisions every woman in the nude as Hoffman sings a bawdy song. Except for the men who all remained clothed, his imagination doesn’t discriminate age-wise, and even a pregnant seated Amy Adams (who looks very uncomfortable) is naked.

Phoenix doesn’t seem to pay attention to the philosophies of the cult around him, and Anderson’s screenplay really doesn’t either. When Hoffman’s son, played by Jesse Plemmons (amusingly recently referred to as Meth Damon on a A.V. Club message board because of his role on Breakin’ Bad and resemblance to Matt Damon), asks Phoenix “Don’t you know he’s making it all up as he goes along?” it doesn’t really register.

Figuring out what’s supposed to register in THE MASTER will be quite a sport this season. Many will be turned off by the coldness of the production, but no doubt will endlessly discuss it.
The film’s wide scope, which was shot in 70 mm, can be overwhelming, even when it’s only focusing on a few faces in the frame. Or just one – mostly Phoenix’s gritty mug, but the red sweaty pores of Hoffman’s cheeks get exhaustingly explored as well.

Phoenix nails the adrift emptiness of a man who just wants to go with the flow, as long as booze and loose woman are part of that flow. Hoffman’s religion may be bullshit to him, but it’s still something to grasp onto, or at least the trappings around it.

I got lost in the engulfing experience that was “The Master,” and believe it’s one of the year’s best films. Each of Anderson’s films has an angle on the American right to the pursuit of happiness, whether it be gained through drilling oil (THERE WILL BE BLOOD), the business of pornography (BOOGIE NIGHTS), crime (HARD EIGHT), romance (PUNCH DRUNK LOVE), or pure chance (MAGNOLIA).

Here, Anderson’s angle is much more difficult to pinpoint, but because of the incredible luscious look of the film, the meticulous acting (both Hoffman and Phoenix’s sharp performances will surely garner award season attention), the precision of the writing, and the excellently fierce and sometimes frightening score by Jonny Greenwood, maybe that doesn’t matter.

The only thing I can really pinpoint is THE MASTER felt like a complicated yet beautiful dream. You just have to wait ‘til later to ask me what it means though, I’m still processing it.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

The Upscale Thriller ARBITRAGE Is Right On The Money

ARBITRAGE (Dir. Nicholas Jarecki, 2012)

Not since “Bonfire of the Vanities” (the book not the awful movie) has witnessing the potential downfall of a financial bigwig been so entertaining.

In Jarecki’s also Manhattan-set “Armitrage,” Richard Gere is indeed what Tom Wolfe called “a master of the universe” in “Bonfire,” and he, like his spiritual descendant Sherman McCoy (a so miscast Tom Hanks in the movie version, which again is terrible) gets into a tragic automobile accident that could derail his wealthy standing.

Gere is great here as the sort of suave investment genius that graces the cover of Forbe’s, and is regularly profiled on MSNBC.

In an early scene, while suiting up, Gere asks his wife (Susan Sarnadon) how he looks. “Regal, wise, and a bit worried,” she responds. This is before the accident, when Gere’s only problem is that his company is millions in debt, and he’s having trouble closing the deal for its sale. Sure, that’s a mighty big problem, but throw in involuntary manslaughter, and you’ve got yourself a clusterfuck of fraud and murder.

After Gere falls asleep at the wheel of his car, and wrecks it killing his mistress (Laetitia Casta), he pulls a Teddy Kennedy and flees the scene. Gere doesn’t phone the police - no, he calls Nate Parker, as the young black son of his former chauffeur to come pick him up.

Soon on the tycoon’s trail is Tim Roth as a slouching scruffy detective, who knows Gere’s guilty.

Roth has a Columbo-ish interrogation style. Take his casual last question “what happened to your head?” as he’s leaving Gere’s office and notices a scab on the man’s forehead. Sure has a “oh, uh, one more thing…” ring to it to me.

As Gere’s daughter and business partner, Brit Marling (“Another Earth”) has a few choice scenes as she is as much on the trail of wrongdoings that Roth is. The emotional tension is palpable when Marling finds out the awful truth about her dad, same with Sarandon, although she acts less shocked. Sarandon appears to have been expecting Gere’s dynasty to crumble for ages.

In what could’ve been a thankless accomplice part, Parker puts in a convincingly stressed-out performance - almost a counterpoint to Gere’s much more expensive stress.

I was reminded not only of Wolfe’s “Bonfire,” but of Woody Allen’s CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. The guilty V.I.P. in that film (Martin Landau) suffered more over issues of morality in his dire predicament, yet both films share the bewilderment over what price the wealthy will pay to stay wealthy.

Compellingly plotted, and as sophisticated as the luxurious trappings it depicts, ARBITRAGE signals the beginning of awards buzz season.

Gere has undeniable star power whether you’re a fan of him or not, and here he more than earns an Oscar nomination. The same could be said for director/writer Nicholas Jarecki, whose first full length feature this is.

The ending, I’m sure, may leave some folks cold, but this upscale thriller is on the money and well worth your time.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

KILLER JOE: A Twisted Good Time, If You Can Stomach It

KILLER JOE (Dir. William Friedkin, 2011)

It’s wonderfully fitting that this movie features rowdy local legends Southern Culture on the Skids on its soundtrack.

That’s because the psychobilly band often throws fried chicken into their just-as-rowdy audience, and in this movie, fried chicken gets used…well, I’m not going to tell you how fried chicken is used in this movie!

I will tell you that this NC-17 rated dark comedy (from the people who brought you BUG!) is a lot of twisted fun, that is, if you can stomach it.

In what may be his finest role this side of David Wooderson in DAZED AND CONFUSED, Matthew McConaughey plays the title character, a corrupt cop/hitman, who is employed by a Texan trailer trash family to murder one of their own so they can collect the insurance money.

As a scuzzy heavily in debt drug-dealer, Emile Hirsch hatches the plan to kill his mother, and convinces his scummy extremely dim-witted mechanic father (Thomas Haden Church with very unappealing patches of facial hair), to go along with it – as the target is his ex.

Church’s sleazy waitress wife (Gina Gershon), is also game, and Juno Temple as Hirsh’s flighty not-all-there sister is wrapped up in the caper too, as she is the beneficiary of her mother’s policy.

When Hirsh and Church can’t come up with the 25 grand to pay McConaughey, he decides to take Temple as a “retainer” until the insurance gets paid out, because he’s sweet on her.

Taking place in Texas, but filmed in Louisiana, KILLER JOE was based on a stage play written byTracy Letts, who also wrote the screenplay, so its tight plotting was honed in the theater. 

Its lengthy final scene, which will most likely come to be known as the “K-Fry-C scene,” could be an effective one-act-play on its own, as its set in one location, and has only the principle cast members in it. It’s a master work of gruesome violent power, which is going to turn a lot of people off, but I bet they’ll never forget it.

McConaughey, coming off notable turns in BERNIE and MAGIC MIKE, owns the title role. He’s never been slicker or more in control than in this formal speaking, dapper, and, yes, charming part, and it’s hilarious that despite all the gore (both Hirsh and Gershon get the Hell beaten out of them right in extreme close-up at different points in the flick), he never gets a drop of blood on his stylish black wardrobe.

Director Friedkin can be stylistically difficult to pin down. Best known for the well-crafted classics THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE EXORCIST, his diverse body of work seems to have touched on every genre, but I’m not sure he really put a distinctive stamp on any of them.

When the website recently named Friedkin on the top of the list as one of the “best worst directors,” it’s hard to argue.

Still, he tackles the stupid scheme-gets-skewed scenario with delicious gusto here, even if cinematographer Caleb Deschanel’s camera seems a bit too in love, maybe more than McConaughey appears to be, with Temple’s visage. I mean she looks like she’s 11 years old! The nude scenes almost seem to be pandering to pedofiles. But then, I guess that's keeping right in line with the territory.

Yet after such a summer crammed full of repeated formulas, it’s actually refreshing to see a film proud of its tawdry-ness and unapologetic about delighting in the sick despicable lives of the very bottom 99%.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

James Cameron's Populist Classic TITANIC Now Out On Blu ray

Having not seen it since its release in 1997, I had forgotten how damn long TITANIC is. I mean it’s an hour and forty minutes into James Cameron’s enormous money-making machine of a movie, which releases this week on Blu ray, before the ship even hits that infamous iceberg! 

Until then we have to wade through a set-up in which the historical background competes with the lame Leonardo Dicaprio/Kate Winslet love story, and that can be really tough going. 

Especially when the dialogue heavily appears to pander to teenage girls; take for instance this bit of Gloria Stuart’s (as the elder version of Winslet’s character) narration in the present-day wraparound: “It was a ship of dreams…to everyone else. To me it was a slave-ship, taking me back to America in chains. Outwardly, I was everything a well brought up girl should be. Inside, I was screaming.”

But the impressive scale of the film, happily obscures much of that ickiness. 

The almost full-scale replication of the ship makes for an astounding set, and there are many sweeping shots that show it off nicely. The history lesson embedded in the narrative also distracts from the sappy cheesiness of the star-crossed lovers scenario, but we all know that that scenario was what made the movie such a huge hit.

The Blu ray transfer looks fantastic, bringing out the shiny cinematography of Russell Carpenter which is undoubtedly his best work - though for a resume that includes SHALLOW HAL, MONSTER IN LAW, and a couple of Katherine Heigl films, that’s not saying much. I did find myself thinking that the lighting during the end scenes was unrealistic for the situation, but that's one of those things you can let slide with the ole 'eh - it's a movie' excuse.

Only a real cynic would deny that the “disaster related peril” (per the PG-13 disclaimer) that dominates the second half of “Titanic” - i.e. the ship sinking - is pretty spectacular stuff. It’s in those bombarding chaotic sequences that the film is able to truly bring together its themes of class divide, and depictions of the best and worst of humanity.

On an 1998 episode of Seinfeld that aired a few months after the release of TITANIC, George Constanza (Jason Alexander) tells Jerry that he just saw the movie and asks: “So that old woman...she’s just a liar, right?”

That nails what’s one of the most unsatisfying and frustrating aspects of the film: Why did that old woman throw the diamond, the “Heart of the Ocean” into the ocean at the end? Felt like a stupid selfish choice after Bill Paxton and his crew flew her to their Titanic-stationed salvage ship, and heard her tell her long detailed story, in hopes of finding that precious artifact, and she secretly discards the diamond when she’s finished. WTF?

Paxton tells the old lady’s granddaughter (Suzy Amis, who probably has 3-4 lines tops) that after three years of thinking of nothing but Titanic, he never really “got” it before. Well, that’s good because he’s sure not getting that diamond.

This new spiffy Blu ray of TITANIC, which follows the film’s 3D theatrical re-release, contains two and a half hours of new special features, in addition to the four hours that were previously available on DVD, so if you can’t get enough of TITANIC you are in for a treat. The bonus material includes 30 deleted scenes, 60 featurettes, and something called “Titanic: The Final Word With James Cameron,” that I bet isn’t his final word.

Interestingly, this week also brings the release of Bob Dylan’s 35th studio album, “Tempest,” which just happens to have an almost 14-minute track about the 1912 Titanic sinking. Dylan references the movie, name-drops DiCaprio, and describes the disaster in time to the Celtic country flavoring of his backing band.

Obviously, one hundred years later, folks are still making a fuss about the Titanic tragedy. Cameron uber successfully made the event into an event movie, that brought about years of backlash, but must be regarded as a populist classic. 

I'm sure Film buffs will still scoff at it, even when appreciating the excellent visuals of this exquisite new Blu ray edition, but I bet even they will admit that it’s much more preferable to our current TWILIGHT times, at least in the realm of teen romance epic wannabes.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Frankly, My Robot, I Somehow Give A Damn

ROBOT & FRANK (Dir. Jake Schreier, 2012)

“He’s my friend,” Frank Langella says of his robot partner in crime in the new comedy drama ROBOT & FRANK. It’s a simple line, but when quietly spoken by the grand actor, it’s utterly believable, and even a little moving.

Also soft-spoken and convincing is the robot, which looks like it was manufactured by the same company that created EVE from WALL-E, that is, before they could outfit them to fly. This relationship largely works because of the inspired choice of Peter Sarsgaard to voice the never-named robot.

Set in the near future, and mostly taking place in a rickety old house in upstate New York, this film’s premise is cute, even a bit flimsy, but its likability factor is high.

Langella, playing the kind of crusty cranky character he could play in his sleep, is a retired jewel thief, whose son (James Marsden) gives him the robot, and when Frank finds out that his new helper wasn’t programmed to obey the law (and can pick locks in record time), he’s back in the robbery game.

Langella has eyes for the local librarian (a fine but flightier than usual Susan Sarandon), who is dealing with the re-structuring, or re-imaging of her workplace into some kind of new-fangled interactive “library experience” by a group of snobby young rich hipsters headed by Jeremy Strong.

Strong is the target of Frank’s latest sting, but conflict arrives in the form of Liv Tyler as Frank’s hippy daughter who is a part of the anti-robot “human movement.” Although the film’s tagline is “Friendship doesn’t have an off switch,” Tyler has a password that de-activates the robot, and this makes for one of the weakest and least thought out sequences in the film. Frank never thinks to call Marsden for the password, and the way the situation is resolved is really lazy writing.

That doesn’t ruin the film though, not even the shoe-horned in detective character (Jeremy Sisto) on the trail can do that, as the charming camaraderie between Frank and his robot make this a breezily enjoyable 89 minutes at the movies.

Director Schreier, who was the keyboardist for the indie band Francis and the Lights who provide the film’s soundtrack, shuffles pleasantly through the screenplay by Christopher D. Ford, and it’s a promising full-length film debut for both of them.

Even in such a light movie, Langella is a heavy presence. ROBOT & FRANK is capable enough to both capture his poignant power and hold our attention.

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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.

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