Til’ Death Do us Part
The romantic comedy has spun itself around this year. Its stories, instead of developing from hopeless and single to a destined union, have started to reverse themselves, all within a contemporary lens. Two good friends had a baby together without collateral marital angst in Friends With Kids and in The Five-Year Engagement, a couple is already matched, but the wedding, like the title suggests is prolonged. It appears the more challenging task is sticking together, or knowing when to quit.
In Celeste and Jesse Forever, this is the paramount distinction, and instead of the climactic build up towards forseeable love, we see a slow, slinky-like decline, starting and stopping from top to bottom. Celeste is played by a strong Rashida Jones, Jesse by a more dramatic Andy Samberg, and forever was their imagined time together. Lee Toland Krieger directs this sobering romance with a script from Jones and Will McCormack, who also stars in the film, which nestles into some unexplored Los Angeles iconography and culture with a shifting soundtrack, made possible by Quincy Jones‘s grandson Sunny Levine (Rashida gets that family perk). It’s a similar progression to (500) Days of Summer, both in location and music, but differing in the characters’ life stages.
The top thus begins at the film’s opening, a collection of snapshots of the two, devleoping their realtionship, punctuated with wedding photos. Fast forward to the present where the couple has now separated, though you wouldn’t know it. That’s one of the funnier concepts of the film, and their two best friends (Eric Christian Olsen and Ari Graynor) can’t wrap their heads around it. A perfect break-up is what Celeste and Jesse call it (they still hand-sign hearts to each other before bed), but to objective third parties, it’s simply weird and soon becomes a point of serious reflection for a once happily married couple.
So there they are. Married, separated, but no sign of divorce papers. Jesse still lives in his illustration studio in the backyard and finds no problems with his set up. But the clamps of politeness loosen from his friends and he’s peer pressured into putting himself out on the market again. He lacks the job dedication Celeste yearns for him to achieve, but hits the dating pool first. He quickly finds an old fling in Veronica and they become serious. Celeste doesn’t find the transition so easy.
Jones plays someone similar to her character in I Love You, Man, then the wife of a Paul Rudd struggling to find a male friend. She always must be right in an argument, must always make a stand- even in the most menial daily occurrences like waiting in line- presenting a created upper edge of intelligence. “Why can’t I just meet someone with an intellect” she complains.
Celeste is a trend analyst, foreseeing things of the future, while trashing objects of low culture. Her trend forecasting however does not aid her own relationships, especially a new one with a pop star Riley (Emma Roberts), who oddly looks like Ke$ha. After dishing insults about the new album, she learns from her boss (Elijah Wood) that her company has signed Riley to a marketing deal. This is another shadow hovering over her, which grows during each awkward run-in with Jesse and beau Veronica and in her search for another “datable” man.
This film is rare in that its dialogue and its protagonist’s problems are richly aware of everyday human interaction. Conversations are authentic, and while there is little to assume Jesse and Veronica have something strong together, the film, though its title shares both names, is largely from the emotional lens of Celeste. We see this insightfully used in blurred shots of hurting revelations and in moments of secluded contemplation, captured with impressionistic aesthetics that saturate a moment, which feels like a day, a month, a year.
After a candid phone call with Riley, one in which she is distraught after her own boyfriend leaves her, some clarity breaks through for Celeste. Her conversation with the popstar offers her a startling moment of self-reflection, and as their relationship grows over mutual heartache, so does Celeste’s own need to reanalyze her life, to see it from a changed perspective.
The supporting cast, which also includes Chris Messina as a harmless love interest for Celeste, is not a marginalized boy vs. girl sidekick cliché, which helps further confuse the parameters of friendship during an ongoing divorce. There’s turbulence, jealousy and mistakes on both sides which is a refreshing reminder of human weakness, but also understanding, where major life changes are one small decision away, and that it’s natural to get cold feet even on your highest conviction.
This is a charming indie venture mostly because characters mature. There is a realization both behind and in front of the camera that friendship is one of the most difficult things in life to manage. “Forever” can still have importance without a diamond ring. Sometimes it best functions as a bracelet.