Thursday, August 2, 2012

Two for the Long Road

The look of love: Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg).

Celeste and Jesse Forever
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
Written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack
Starring Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg

Here’s the main reason I liked Celeste and Jesse Forever: it acknowledges that life holds many possibilities but not all of these can be fulfilled, and that luck and circumstance often have as much to do with what happens to us as our own choices—in other words, our choices do not exist in a vacuum, so half the time we don’t know what we’re doing.

Indeed, Jesse—a somewhat restrained Andy Samberg—at one point bluntly tells his soulmate (or is she?) Celeste, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” even as he’s trying to set himself on a more self-determined path.

Rashida Jones, who plays Celeste, a savvy media consultant separated from the artist/slacker Jesse, co-wrote the script—with Will McCormack, also in the film, as a philosophic pot dealer—which could easily have succumbed to rom-com formula. Instead, it hints at a maturity that goes well beyond the Apatow-esque shticks Celeste and Jesse amuse themselves with and the inevitable will-they-or-won’t-they-get-back-together question at the heart of the story.

Having decided to divorce six months before (“The father of my child will own a car” is Celeste’s shorthand explanation for the split), the two have settled into a BFF situation. Jesse lives in his artist’s studio behind Celeste’s L.A. house, and the pair see each other every day, as Celeste’s “regular” best friend, Beth (played by a refreshingly real Ari Graynor), angrily points out over dinner one night. This complacent relationship is threatened only when Jesse—in the company of, of course, Celeste—runs into Veronica (Rebecca Dayan), a one-night stand (mid-separation) that he hasn’t told his sort-of-ex-wife about.

Veronica (who has crooked front teeth! Where did director Lee Toland Krieger find these attractive but kind of normal-looking actors?) throws Jesse a shy but dazzling smile in the middle of a bookstore, thus, for “trend analyst” Celeste, ironically underscoring the title of her new book, Shitegeist—“I read that!” Veronica tells her—while also, for the audience, calling into question the movie title’s “forever.” 

Except that the clever people behind this film know that “forever” transcends doodles and tree-carvings—that it may even transcend our notions of what love, friendship, and romance itself mean.

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