Sony // 2013 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 5th, 2013
For anyone who has to break up with their best friend.
"This is totally normal, right?"
Celeste (Rashida Jones, Parks and Recreation) and Jesse (Andy Samberg, Hot Rod) look like the world's happiest couple. They go everywhere together, constantly make each other laugh and generally seem to be delightful people. The strange thing: Celeste and Jesse are getting a divorce. Sure, they may not want to be married to each other anymore, but they're still best friends who want to hang out with each other all the time. All of the couple's friends insist this is strange behavior and that the two should really just get back together, but Celeste and Jesse claim that they're totally cool with being separated. However, when Jesse begins a serious relationship with another woman, Celeste begins to question whether their split was a good idea.
Over the past couple of decades, no genre has fared as poorly as the romantic comedy. The genre that was once the domain of Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges is now largely dominated by films that are thoroughly formulaic even when they deliver laughs (though they usually don't). As such, it's a pleasure to witness a film like Celeste & Jesse Forever, a humble rom-com that achieves a great deal simply by telling a surprisingly original story in an inventive way.
Celeste & Jesse Forever isn't the first movie to use a break-up between the central characters as a starting point. The aptly-titled The Break-Up tried the same thing a few years earlier, but that movie could never find a balance between its penchant for sitcom-style plotting and its desire to break the mold. This film is a considerably more satisfying balancing act, jumping between goofy humor and thought-provoking insight with seemingly effortless grace. Think of it as a lighter variation on Sarah Polley's underrated Take This Waltz; a film about a young woman's uncertain journey in the wake of a failed starter marriage.
I've always liked Rashida Jones -- I mean, look up the definition of the word "likable" in the dictionary and you'll find her picture -- but at long last, she's gotten a role that really permits her to demonstrate what a terrific actress she is. Her moments of physical comedy are superb (observe her horrified facial expressions what she listens to a particularly unsavory piece of pop music), she brings out the flavor of her witty dialogue and she aces some challenging dramatic scenes. In the wrong hands, Celeste might have seemed like an indecisive annoyance, but the depth of Jones' characterization permits us to empathize with her every step of the way. It's a strong performance, but that's a fact that will go unrecognized by many due to the film's lightweight nature.
Jones also co-wrote the screenplay with fellow actor Will McCormick (who has a supporting turn as Celeste's pot dealer), and together with director Lee Toland Krieger they manage to create a film that never runs out of steam. The movie has a number of Important Points to make, but it always manages to retain a down-to-earth sense of humor that prevents it from feeling pretentious. Likewise, the laughs are mostly integrated into the film in a very natural way that feels pleasantly unforced (the exception: a clunky, meta running gag in which a character played by Elijah Wood tries unsuccessfully to become Jones' "sassy gay friend").
One of the intriguing supporting characters in the film is Riley (Emma Roberts, Nancy Drew), a Ke$ha-esque pop star whose album cover is being designed by the company Celeste works for. Celeste loathes Riley for her vapid songs, but eventually discovers that there's more to the girl than her trashy public image. So it is with the rest of the movie. At a glance, Celeste & Jesse Forever might look like just another fluffy, forgettable rom-com, but look a little closer and you'll discover one of 2012's hidden gems.
Celeste & Jesse Forever receives a satisfying standard-def transfer. The film offers a lower-key look than the average rom-com, which seems to suit the slightly more turbulent subject matter at the film's core. Detail is strong and blacks are deep. The Dolby 5.1 Surround track gets the job done nicely, emphasizing the film's satisfying collection of snappy, engaging pop songs and indie rock selections. For the most part, dialogue is front and center and is perfectly clear. Supplements are highlighted by two commentaries: a light, fun commentary with Jones and Samberg and a more technically-minded commentary with Jones, McCormack and Krieger. You also getting "The Making of Celese & Jesse Forever" (14 minutes) and "On the Red Carpet: Premiere and Q&A" (13 minutes), some deleted scenes and, um, some Chris Pine outtakes (Pine has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo in the movie -- indeed, only after watching the outtakes did I realize that Pine was even in the movie).
Celeste & Jesse Forever is a pleasant surprise, a thoughtful rom-com that is more (500) Days of Summer than How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Check it out.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes