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Celeste & Jesse Forever

A nice mid-film save after a strained and exasperating opening. But then it eventually cops out and goes soft at the finale. I find that I can no longer give points to these “personal” projects for being almost good. If you get these things produced and released, then you’re officially playing with the big boys(or girls). So, don’t expect me to “take it easy”. If I hear you on NPR touting your screenplay(I’m talking to you “Celeste”, aka Rashida Jones), you’ve already got a listening audience that many filmmakers don’t have access to. Your beautiful and sharp(Harvard-educated), and appear to be a real talent. You are also the progeny of a big, rich celebrity couple(the now-divorced Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton). So, if I think you are taking the easy route—I’m going to call you out. And you did—after a very promising second act. A shame too. You were in the groove for a while. Especially considering that that opening was incredibly full of shit. I understand why you went there. And it would be nice to believe that break-ups could be that amicable. Some may very well indeed be. But the overwhelming majority are not. So, strike one from the get-go.

Celeste(Ms. Jones) and Jesse(Andy Samberg—solid, but undeniably second fiddle to his co-screenwriting co-star)are childhood friends that become best friends and eventually lovers. The infancy and development of that relationship is chronicled in a concise and artful opening montage. They have now been married for a number of years. The film officially opens with a dinner scene of C & J breaking bread with a couple of close pals(a twosome who are engaged). C & J are laughing, enjoying each other’s company and amusing one another with some risqué repartee, when suddenly one friend leaves in frustration saying that it’s “just too weird” how C & J are carrying on. And that’s the BIG reveal. The audience is now made aware that C & J have been separated for months, and now are moving ahead with an imminent divorce. Seems that they are unable to “let go”, and so continue to go through the motions of their “marriage”. They try to remain best friends, because they have always been best friends. Apparently Celeste is career-driven, while Jesse is a bit of a slacker. It’s one of the things that lead to their break-up. But they enjoy being with each other, and haven’t even started trying to date other people. Then Jesse finds out that a one-night-stand, from 3 months prior, is now pregnant. And his sudden feeling of responsibility causes rapid and tumultuous change.

This is where the Jones’ screenplay(and Will McCormack’s—who also plays pot-dealer buddy, Skillz in the movie)has its most potent strength. The shifts in attitude that bring on jealousy and resentment. The tortuous dating process after years with just one person(been there myself). The acceptance and realization of “maybe this is really over”. It’s poignant, it feels real and it has weight. So, it’s a particular shame when all things clichéd and fluffy take over. I do think that both stars are very engaging performers, and that they work very well off of each other. It’s a nice chemistry. But their eventual, separate dating process scenes take on a false ring too, with the typical focus on being matched up with weirdos and people out of their age and education range. Then, of course, the inevitable “meet cute”. Followed by the hollow “I just need to be alone for a while”. It all leads to the now common-place penultimate gathering event—a big wedding. The perfect excuse for certain guests to have a little alcohol and make sloppy, revealing speeches. Hey, you might just enjoy this if you happen by it on cable some night after the kiddies are in bed. It’s an interesting enough watch. But it should’ve aimed a little higher and not gotten mired in the obvious.     Grade: C+

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