Film Review: CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER (directed by Lee Toland Krieger)

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by Kevin Bowen on August 17, 2012

in Film

CELESTE IS A HOLLYWOOD STUDIO FILM IN DISGUISE

Is Celeste and Jesse Forever really an indie movie? Or is it a Hollywood rom-com with impoverished financial backing, all dressed in crusty jammies and without its makeup in the morning?

If you even ask that question, then you know the movie leaves its evidence like a cat burglar after a buffalo wing breakfast. Despite a dressed-down appearance, CJF still has been grown in a Hollywood cliché greenhouse – the busybody woman, the easygoing guy, the breakups, the hookups, the jealousy traps, a touch of juvenile sex humor, a friend’s big wedding, and the big lesson learned at the end. Even two of its stars – Rashida Jones and Emma Roberts – are noticeably from Hollywood families.

By finding a starting place that isn’t entirely conventional, CJF at least starts with a decent premise. Celeste and Jesse (Jones and Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg) are lifelong best friends and recently separated spouses. But they still hang out together every day.

Their best friends insist this is royally weird. Aren’t they supposed to be throwing vases at each other? Instead, they’re still giggling at a running dirty joke where they take a conical object and rub it like a penis. They’ve probably performed this dirty joke 1,000 times…even though we’re tired of it after three…even though it wasn’t that funny the first time.

What happens, though, when they actually have to put the “separate” into separation? What happens when someone finally wraps the furniture, tosses out the pizza boxes, and moves out of the house for a new life?

Celeste and Jesse Forever is reminiscent of a very good release from last year, Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy. Both films are subverted takes on the romantic comedy, but Like Crazy takes it to a place where it hasn’t gone – to a sudden realization that love has evaporated – in which a young couple separated by immigration laws sacrifice their lives for a love that turns out to be an illusion. The ending of Like Crazy is particularly devastating, as the couple’s final reunion turns out to be a dud, even though both lovers have sacrificed so much of their lives to achieve it. It is this denouement which gives Doremus’ film a truly harrowing quality.

That’s the sort of brave ending that an indie film should deliver. While CJF admirably avoids the easiest swallow, it still settles for something that hardly disturbs. The script, credited to Jones and fellow actor Will McCormack, doesn’t have the same sense of emotional adventure.  As you might expect from an actor, it’s stronger at building a character (which is what actors do) than delivering on themes or wringing biting lines out of the situation.

CJF proceeds on the idea that both subdued, low-lit cinematography and a shortage of lipstick translate into credibility (DP David Lazenburg, under the direction of Lee Toland Krieger). The movie doesn’t do this in a mean way, nor in a particularly cynical way.  But it is symptomatic of the identity crisis in which indie films now find themselves. Are indies doomed to be modestly altered takes on Hollywood concepts operating on low budgets? Or should they be inventive filmmaking with creativity that defies budgeting? While I wouldn’t say that films like CJF are entirely degrading, I look forward to the days when more adventurous fare returns to the Indieplex.

Celeste and Jesse Forever
produced by Team Todd, Envision Media Arts, PalmStar Entertainment
released by Sony Pictures Classics
rated R
in current release

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