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CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER (OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP BITCHING AND LOVE RASHIDA JONES)

January 9, 2013

When Rashida Jones first entered my life, she was a nuisance. It was 2006, or The Office season 3, and Jim had just taken a position at the Stamford branch, to get away from still-engaged Pam… and there she was. Karen. Workin late. Fliiirting away.

Rationally, I can see that it was in no way Karen’s fault that she was taking Jim away from Pam — and even, in fact, that Karen was really the victim in the situation — but I just didn’t like her. As played by Rashida Jones, I found her cloying: somehow, she was both aggravating and boring. Everything about her just pissed me off. I didn’t even think she was particularly pretty; something I would add to my tirades as an afterthough, like “she’s not, honestly, even that pretty. I don’t get it!”

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These facts made it all the worse when she showed up in Season 1 of Parks and Recreation. Initially, she was just one of many bad things about the show. Hear me out: Parks and Rec was not good in its first season. It was a confused jumble of ideas, with the Leslie Knope character too clearly copying the Michael Scott character from The Office. With an annoying as as opposed to lovable Leslie at its center, the whole thing fell apart. And there, too, was Ann Perkins: once again, Rashida Jones playing a boring, perpetually annoyed, and assumed-to-be-hot character. She  just sort of stood there, saying her lines in what seemed to be the flattest, most disinterested possible way.

When the show improved in season 2 (and I mean REALLY improved, now I honestly believe it to be pure genius), Ann didn’t improve with it. In my eyes, she remained a boring sidekick, contributing nothing, a blankness radiating from Rashida’s plain face. So there we were: it was 2011, and I thought Rashida Jones was stupid. I thought she didn’t deserve her success.

I gave her another chance in I Love You, Man, and again found her to be playing a blank, annoyed, “hot” woman. Enough, I thought! Give us someone with an expressive face and something to say for herself!

Then, on a September day that year, I saw Our Idiot Brother. The movie itself was just ok, but Rashida was playing a different part for the very first time, and lo and behold, she was interesting! As Zooey Deschanel’s lesbian partner, she popped with real emotion and anger and humanity. I was surprised. Her performance stayed with me (even as the rest of the movie floated mercifully away); she’d hit something. I remained unconvinced, but something had stuck.

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For the remainder of that year, I stayed in this murky, undecided place, Rashida-wise. I held to my conviction that she sucked on Parks and Rec, but I wasn’t able to protest as loudly. I guessed she was OK. Ann’s friendship with Leslie was developing into something truly sweet and wonderful, and she had to have something to do with that, after all. Maybe it was my fault; maybe I hadn’t been seeing the Ann that Rashida was creating because I didn’t want to see her.

It was the fall of 2012 when Celeste and Jesse Forever came out. In August, I read an interview with Rashida in the New York Times about her work on the movie, and about her views of womanhood. “I am generally cast as the dependable, affable, loving, friend-wife-girlfriend,” she starts, “I felt like this was the only opportunity I had to play this kind of part, a character that’s maybe less-than-likable.”

So here was the truth: Rashida wasn’t choosing these boring roles because she was a boring person, but because these are the roles that are generally offered to women. When given the chance to write a role for herself, she wrote Celeste: a complicated, angry, lonely, determined, smart, difficult woman. A full person.

Celeste and Jesse Forever, it turns out, is a brilliant movie, and in it, Rashida exposes herself completely. The character of Celeste is a mess. She begins the movie certain of her choices and, as she starts to deal with their reprecussions, falls apart layer by layer, eventually ending up stoned, dirty, and totally destroyed. To watch her let us see that is inspiring, maybe even more inspiring than to watch her climb out of it.

Rashida and her co-writer, Will McCormack, wrote a really real relationship movie. Not a rom-com, or a one-person-gets-cancer drama, but just a picture of two people struggling to separate and exist without each other. The character of Celeste is pretty self-centered a lot of the time, and she makes questionable choices and goes through real pain as she figures out how to deal with the life she’d thought she wanted. I was stunned by all of it.

And so here I am: it is 2013, and I love Rashida Jones. We’ve had a long, complicated relationship, but we’ve arrived here. Rashida is an actress/writer with a clear head and a unique, excitingly new perspective to offer the world. And she looks much more beautiful to me, now that I can really see her.

Appreciate Rashida with me on Portable.

One Comment

  1. […] (my dear Rashida Jones) is angry and sad when she goes to this Halloween party. And the result is completely real: she […]

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