Writing a good divorce comedy is tougher.
So the fact that Rashida Jones nailed both her performance and her part of the screenplay entire movie is something very special.
Celeste and Jesse Forever follows a long-term couple in the midst of a breakup. Having been best friends for the past twenty years, Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) find themselves divorcing–in spite of their continued chemistry. Celeste, a trends analyst and pop-culture commentator, is the epitome of a responsible business woman. Jesse is an unemployed artist, who spends more time scheming on surfing than actively planning out his life. They bond through some strange shared loves (like masturbating lip glosses, baby corn, and other things that look like tiny penises) but Celeste initiates the divorce since Jesse has failed to grow up.
However, as the proceedings continue, and they actually start experiencing life outside of their bond, both Celeste and Jesse begin to question their initial perceptions of their marriage. The conversations between Jesse and Celeste flow easily, in that goofy style of intimate speech that’s really hard to capture on film. The film shines when it uses Celeste’s job as an endless source of pop culture commentary, from her book Shitgeist to working with manufactured pop princess Riley Banks. There’s even a cameo from internet darling Sarah Haskins. The film is smart and funny – unfortunately, like most comedies with a relationship at the core, it fails the Bechdel Test.
The Hollywood Reporter interviewed Jones about the writing process:
THR: How much is the film autobiographical for the two of you?
Jones: It’s definitely a pastiche for both of us. We talk all the time about relationships and love and what it means and how it changes — what it means to grow up and how that affects the way you love people. We’re kind of obsessed with it! The film is for sure emblematic of a couple relationships I’ve had; some of them romantic and some of them friendships. It definitely reflects my relationship with Will and other guy friends I’ve had from the time I was 15. Definitely a mashup all around.
THR: Relationships that don’t work out offer up a lot of great material to work with as a writer, don’t they?
Jones: Definitely! There’s no better way to process pain than to write. I’ve not had that experience with acting. I mean, you can momentarily get these glimpses of real pain, but it’s nice to really, really process it and get into it and figure out why it hurts so bad; be really honest about it without having it be you talking to the person you want to talk to.
Honesty is a hallmark of the film–while lots of scenes (and Elijah Wood’s entire character) are pushed over the top for comedic effect, the characters get emotionally naked as the divorce proceedings continue. Samberg does a wonderful job in exploring the vulnerability involved with divorce, but Jones manages to capture the essence of a woman without forcing her into stereotype. Celeste isn’t a bitchy, perpetually single career woman–she has her moments, but they don’t define her. The movie never undermines her character to teach her a lesson, and it doesn’t rely on the Hollywood idea of a happy ending to drive the plot home. It isn’t a coming-of-age film–it’s more about surviving adulthood.
From a Racialicious standpoint, I went into the film with no racial expectations. From the trailer, Jones’ character Celeste is in a majority white world, and that’s basically what you get. However, there are racial references that were puzzling. Celeste attends a Halloween party with a white hefty bag secured around her midsection. When people ask, she explains she’s going as “white trash.” But later, after her date plays something like “Zuleisha” in scrabble, she crows “That’s not a word, that’s like my hootchie cousin’s name!” Make of that what you will, readers.
Ultimately, the movie is enjoyable. It isn’t quite first-date fodder due to the subject explored, but would be fun in most other scenarios. And if you want to see it, you’re in luck–the movie is being distributed by Sony, and will hit theaters in summer 2012.