Thursday night at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Boston, I had the great privilege of screening Celeste and Jesse Forever. Being fresh from it's premiere at Sundance, I honestly knew nothing about the film apart from a few cast members and the fact that it was purchased by Sony Pictures Classics earlier this week. I don't often get the chance to go into movies knowing so little about them, so it was a different experience all around. I'm glad I went into the film cold. It turned out to be a very unexpected surprise.
Out of the gate, Celeste and Jesse Forever looked to be a typical rom-com. "They're out of love, then in love, then out of love, then...wait for it...they make up again! Rising violins. Credits." I quickly realized, however, that I was completely wrong. The movie is genuinely funny and surprisingly heartfelt. I don't mean Judd Apatow-comedy "heartfelt" either. The humor in Celeste and Jesse Forever comes organically from it's characters and their interactions rather than the crazy situations they find themselves in. Nothing in the film really seems forced. Realism is what propels this movie and helps it stand apart from the rest of the modern comedy herd.
Jesse and Celeste love each other. They've been married for six years and, before that, were best friends since high school. You're aware of this because they say so, but you believe this because of the way they speak to and act toward each other. Written by real life BFF's, Rashida Jones (who plays Celeste) and Will McCormack (who almost steals the show at one point as Skillz, a mutual friend of Jesse and Celeste), the dialogue really sounds like two old friends communicating through years of in-jokes and a "sixth sense" of what the other is thinking. This strong introduction to the characters helps to endear them to the audience quickly. You care about them because they seem like real people. People you know. You become invested in these characters and this makes the events that eventually unfold that much more immediate and engrossing.
Part of what works in the dialogue is the profanity. Being a film made without interference from the studio system, the dialogue was never curtailed to fit into a pre-configured, MPAA-ready package. The conversations in the film aren't overly explicit by any means. The characters mainly speak quite eloquently and intelligently. But certain situations call for an "asshole", a "fuck", and occasionally a few "cocks". They talk like fucking people. When they get emotional they tend to fucking swear at each other. I can't remember another recent film where coarse language has been used primarily to convey the frustration of characters. It's refreshing.
The acting in the film is something that begs to be addressed. Andy Samberg (Jesse) has never really been anyone on my radar. I'm not overly familiar with his SNL work aside from the Digital Shorts, and I don't recall ever seeing him in more than a cameo role in a feature film. He brought a seriousness to the predominantly comedic role that reminded me a little of Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love. He is someone to watch. Rashida Jones turns in a star-making performance as Celeste. Celeste is the character you follow through most of the movie and Jones makes her magnetic, especially later in the movie (the wedding sequence instantly springs to mind). Aside from the leads, the film is peppered with solid performances by a talented supporting cast. This leads to the only real question I have regarding the performances: How the fuck is Ari Graynor not a household name?! She is an actress just waiting to pop into the mainstream consciousness.
According to director Lee Toland Krieger, the movie was shot over a period of 22 days for a minimal amount of money (I'm not sure if I'm supposed to disclose the specific amount, but it was staggeringly low). Being such a light and fast shoot, there isn't exactly a plethora of extravagant or purely artistic camera work but, then again, there doesn't really need to be. Each shot serves to advance the story in some way. It's a tightly edited and easily flowing film. There is definitely a unique tone to the direction, but nothing that stands out as particularly brilliant. It has a distinctive enough feel that makes me want to check out more of his work, but nothing I am able to articulate on one viewing of one film. As I said before, the film succeeds mainly because of the writing and the talents of the actors involved.
Celeste and Jesse Forever is a movie people need to see. It is the kind of film I want to see more of from commercial "relationship comedy" films. It has the ability to be serious, funny, and endearing without once smelling anything like a "chick flick" or insulting audience intelligence. I recommend checking this out as soon as you get the chance. Grade: A