September 10, 2012
In the opening shots of Celeste and Jesse Forever, we see the titular couple driving through Los Angeles. They are singing along to the radio and it’s clear that they are comfortable, so comfortable, together. It is obvious why these people are drawn to each other and why they don’t want to part.
As the movie goes on, of course, everything becomes more complicated. “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is a daring movie. It can’t be described as a traditional romcom, because, while funny sometimes, the romance is in the relationship’s demise. This is a relationship movie, and a very, very good one – one that’s not afraid to blow open the central relationship and expose real flaws in its characters.
At the start, Celeste (played by Rashida Jones, who also co-wrote the script) holds the power. She and Jesse (Andy Samberg, playing serious very well) fell in love young, and were married for six years. But he hasn’t grown up the way she hoped he would, and so they’ve split up. We don’t see the split, but its aftermath: Jesse is living in Celeste’s guesthouse until he can find his own place, and they are hanging out every day. In practice, very little has changed.
This is such a real part of life that is rarely so well depicted in movies. When a relationship ends, and there’s no yelling, no hatred, no cheating – when what stops is the being IN LOVE, not the loving – how do you let go? Why not seek comfort from the person you’re most comfortable with? It is a deeply human desire to hold on to something safe. Here, Celeste and Jesse have a strong grip.
But then, but then. It can’t last, and things start to spiral, and the power structure is reversed. Director Lee Toland Krieger does an exceptional job conveying the magnitude of the emotional results. In one scene, he follows Celeste into her bedroom as she loses her breath: the camera slows down and gets close to her during a panic attack. The room is closing in on her.
As things progress, Celeste continues to unravel. And it’s not cute. It’s not very funny, either, although there are some hilarious moments. But mostly, Krieger lets Celeste be mean. He lets her be self-obsessed, and angry, and really, really sad. He lets her hair look dirty and her clothes be mis-matched. He lets her be stoned. It’s refreshing.
The movie raises big questions, like what makes a good relationship, and what does it mean to say goodbye to someone, and what’s worth fighting for. It doesn’t answer them, though; things just play out as they do. In one scene, Celeste attends the wedding of a close friend. As the reception rages, we see her standing outside the wedding tent, alone in the rainy night. Her face is sad, but hopeful. The moment feels iconic, both in the beauty of the shot and in its emotional depth.
Jones wrote the script with Will McCormack (he shows up in the movie as the best friend pot dealer, a slightly creepy but mostly good guy). They’ve written a good one. Props to everyone. This movie reminded me why movies matter.
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