Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

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"Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?"

There are few movies that have made me yearn for a tactile experience as much as Celeste and Jesse Forever made me want a hug. There are a lot of hugs in the movie, and they're all sweet affairs, marked with delicacy and emphasis. In a world where kisses are betrayals or, worse, meaningless, it's amazing that even a stranger's hug can make the pain go away, if only for one brief fuzzy second.

Emotional pain pulsates through Celeste and Jesse, the story of a couple, Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) who've dated their entire adolescent and adult lives, and now, after six years of marriage, have decided to call it quits. Celeste thinks Jesse is immature and unmotivated, and Jesse thinks Celeste just needs to prove something to herself before she comes back to him.

This is not how things play out.


Celeste is a consummate professional and author, a trend reader whose identity has become irrevocably linked with being fashionably down on everything. Jesse, meanwhile, has the opposite problems. He's an artist and a good one, but doesn't excel simply because he doesn't have the urge to. His life is on autopilot.

They're separated but not divorced. He lives in the backyard. They still spend all their spare time together, doing patently stupid things like discussing bar menus in Austrian accents and jerking off tiny tubes of lip balm. Life can't continue like this, though that will certainly be a great tragedy to the lip balm, among others.

The film keeps teasing the characters with chances to realign with each other, but in every instance they get pulled apart again either because of pride or an aching need to do right by someone else. Celeste is more the focus of the film, which is honestly a relief. I've seen enough manchildren fumble towards maturity this summer, so Sandberg's background story is handled with the right amount of quiet delicacy.


So Celeste is the main attraction, and the film modulates her character enough that, while certainly engaging in sitcom pratfalls, it doesn't push her into caricature.  Especially interesting is in how her desperation grows as she feels Jesse slipping away, which results her starting to act more and more like him. Everything she complains about him in the first act she's practically embodying by the third.

Jones is sublime as Celeste, finding a delicate balance between someone inherently spoiled by her position of authority and someone who just wants to have fun with her friend and love him until the end of time. There's also some great work from Ari Graynor as Celeste's best friend and Elijah Wood as her partner and failed sassy gay pal.

The script likes poking fun at stereotypes and itself (notice the arrival of Veronica shortly after 'Bettys' are mentioned), and sometimes falls into screenwriting traps. While it wisely gives us a parallel relationship between two other friends that are making their moves towards marriage, also added on is a bland subplot involving Celeste helping out a young teen pop sensation (Emma Roberts, better than her role) which reeks of "do you get the message yet?" Excising these moments could only have made the film feel more esoteric, which, hey, I'm all for.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Chris Messina as Paul, the guy who picks up chicks at yoga class and gets more than he bargained for with Celeste. He manages a fine line between dorky and Mr. Perfect, and, I have to admit, the way his character was dressed made me rethink my wardrobe. Considering I've worn practically the same thing since 1996, that was not an easy task on his part.


The film's visual style is filled with careful handheld camerawork, most of which is so good that it barely registers as being present. It creates a subtle effect (remember that?) where the reality is emphasized but not markedly so. This isn't "The Office" or another pseudo documentary, but a piece where the camera is used to reverberate the character's emotional states.

After watching it, I've had a hard time deciding if Celeste and Jesse is a movie that feels like it was made back when indies were a little more daring at the turn of the century, or if it just feels like something that I would have connected to more deeply back then. That urge of needing to move on but not wanting to is one I'm intimately familiar with, and the titular duo's relapses and emotional struggles is played with measured understanding.

It's not the happiest possible ending, but it's a perfect little mess. Life is sad, and we can lose connections to people we truly cherish, whether we want to or not. Now, if you need me, I'm headed off to find that hug.

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Posted by Danny

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