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Friday, August 3, 2012

Rashida Jones Takes the Romance Out of the Romantic Comedy, "Celeste and Jesse Forever"



Rashida Jones has managed to do what few actors, regardless of color or gender, have done before her--write and star in a modern romantic comedy that neither belittles its audience nor creates a bombastic utopia of what love looks like.

In her debut directorial effort, Celeste and Jesse Forever, the Parks and Recreation and The Office star explores what really happens after the love is gone. Or, in the case of this movie, what happens to two people who love each other but are not in love with each other.


Jones plays Celeste, a hard-working image consultant happily separated from her long-time best friend and husband Jesse (Andy Samberg). Happily, because the two still manage to hang out every day, live together (well, he technically lives in their garage), and even share laughs over the same corny inside joke. Their relationship hasn't changed really, except for the fact that they don't have sex. But who's counting that?



Jesse is more of a laid back kind of dude, one of those fellas who inspire movies like Wedding Crashers or Old School. In other words, he's an out-of-work overgrown frat boy posing as a semi-adult in order to stay afloat. And Celeste has had enough, which is why their romantic relationship is on the skids.


The awkwardness of the situation has become more of an issue with the couple's friends, namely Beth and Tucker (Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen), who find hanging out with them now at an all-time high on the uncomfortable meter.


And therein lies the beauty of C&J Forever: it doesn't pretty-fy a breakup by making each party look guilty of being specifically wrong or specifically right, and it doesn't overdramatize it either. In essence, the movie is a two-hour breakup between two people who love each other dearly, and would rather not give up that love just because the romance has gone away.






Jones really establishes herself as one of the most overlooked lead actress around. She commands the screen here as a the breadwinner of a broken home that's not all the way broken. She's charming, hilarious, and appropriately quiet when the scene calls for it. But she knows just when to hike up the physical comedy, Bridesmaids-style, when Celeste starts to descend on her downward spiral once Jesse tips the see-saw in their relationship. Like Kristin Wiig, she's created a relatable female character you want to hug, avoid, and with whom you want to laugh all at the same time. Celeste's storyline is wonderfully nuanced, and indicative of the age-old conundrum where the woman's professional life soars as her personal life goes down the drain. In C&J Forever, both start to hit the fan at the same time, and in equal measures.


Samberg also holds up his end of the lead character plot in a surprising performance not at all like his small screen personas on SNL. While he has the audience in stitches on the sketchy comedy show, he wears his heart on his sleeve in C&J Forever, and becomes the other emotional anchor of the movie. Just as any good actor who shares the lead with another, he makes the audience empathize with his character, even when we sometimes feel we shouldn't. He's like that teddy bear you want to slap sometimes. He may not have always signed on to do the most memorable projects (That's My Boy anyone?), but he's really stumbled onto something really good here, something that shows what else he can do.

The supporting actors are also really delightful to watch. Graynor is abrasively adorable as Celeste's BFF, and really says the things we as an audience are thinking about Celeste, but aren't in the movie to tell her ourselves. And her better half, Olsen, is also fun to watch.

Chris Messina (with whom Jones stars in 2010's lackluster drama, Monogamy) plays a small role in the movie as a guy Celeste meets in yoga, and is is just as forgettable in this movie. He always seems to be booking roles, however unremarkable, but he has yet to find his breakout role.

On the other hand, Will McCormack, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jones, leaves a pretty indelible mark on the movie. Not only did he help come up with the clever lines and uncliched twists in the movie, he also pretty hilarious as Skillz, Celeste and Jesse's pot-smoking mutual friend who's caught in the middle of an ongoing breakup on a further decline. Emma Roberts and Elijah Wood are also not to be missed as Celeste's unruly new client and work husband, respectively.

Celeste and Jesse Forever is that much needed refreshing take on the modern romantic comedy that's become worn down by repeated tries and mediocre duplicates. It takes chances and bends the genre from what we expect, which is what any good movie should do. We'll be waiting to see what Jones comes up with next.

Rating: A-

1 comments:

Regina is... said...

OK, perhaps I'll give it a chance this weekend! Sounds kinda interesting...

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