Published Aug 02, 2012Early on in the exceedingly astute romantic comedy, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Celeste (Rashida Jones), a cultural trend expert, notes that the current marketplace is a wasteland of talentless pop stars, derivative reality TV and redundant sequels.
She sees a shift to simpler, more sincere and organic films and music on the horizon, with people craving substance rather than a blasé reiteration of a complacent and uneducated (but outspoken) status quo.
I can't say I'm quite as optimistic as Celeste, who, as written by Jones, almost nods and winks during this monologue, indirectly addressing the text, which is ultimately the sort of character-driven piece that defined the mid-'90s.
Her plight ― the driving impetus behind the film ― is that of polite, indirect superiority. Feeling that ex-boyfriend Jesse (Andy Samberg) is beneath her, unemployed and living in her tiny coach house as he is, she ignores their intense ideological connection and harmonious energy, relegating him to best friend status. While she's fine with this arrangement, certain he'll stick around like a loyal pet, his desire to restore their relationship leads him down a different path.
Inevitably, the somewhat ironic title comes into play as these two characters learn about themselves and how they inadvertently held each other back from acknowledging their respective Achilles' heels. This exploration of identity is what drives this clever and wholly engaging low budget work of dialogue and observation, much like director Lee Toland Krieger's brilliant, but underrated (it wasn't even released theatrically in Canada) freshman feature, The Vicious Kind.
In both films, he manages to capture the awkwardness of meeting new people as juxtaposed with the bizarre comfort of those with defined relationships. Celeste and Jesse have a natural dynamic, which, given their propensity to manually stimulate lip gloss and mini-corn, might seem peculiar to those outside of their lexicon.
Similarly, Celeste's dalliances in the dating world post-Jesse are frequently hilarious in their believable discomfort, such as a scene where she attempts to hook up with a guy, only to have him masturbate on her leg while she looks at the ceiling, scrunches her nose and says, "uh, no."
But more than the idiosyncratic humour, Celeste and Jesse works as a testament to self-awareness. The real heart comes from the acknowledgement of the self as a flawed work in progress. Where most mainstream films of this ilk feature people changing overnight or implausibly realizing the errors of their ways because of a well-timed speech, this must-see title isn't afraid to get its hands dirty with a bit of unflattering reality. (Mongrel Media)