Celeste and Jesse Forever: Thoughts

Warning: Just so you know, spoilers ahead.

I was going to post something else today, but then I watched Celeste and Jesse Forever and I just had to write about it. This isn’t going to be review, instead it will be me just talking about the film, what I liked, what I didn’t, really just what I thought about it. If you haven’t seen Celeste and Jesse Forever I would recommend watching the film first and then reading this.

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This is not my usual sort of film. I’m not a big romantic film fan as a general rule unless they’re really good (Casablanca comes to mind). This is not Casablanca, but it’s highly enjoyable and quite surprising, a positive and unusual trait for a rom-com to have. Is it a rom-com though? There’s romance, and there’s comedy, but this is a film not typical of the genre and so is deeply refreshing.

It follows, for want of a better word or phrase, anti-couple Celeste and Jesse. They separated 6 months ago and now are friends. In theory. In reality they are still acting as a couple. They are two people, both not quite ready to give up on their relationship, though Jesse is much more open about his hopes they’ll reunite than Celeste.

The speed with which this film moved away from the ‘non-relationship’ was not what I was expecting. I think that’s why I enjoyed this film so much; I couldn’t anticipate what this film would do, which directions it would turn. I thought it was going to be a will-they-won’t-they get back together situation, but it’s more and better than that. The end of the film still leaves the will-they-won’t-they situation rather ambiguous for me in fact. Personally, I can’t see Celeste and Jesse’s relationship ending in any other way than first destroying every other relationship they have, before they finally end up together or permanently apart. These aren’t two people who can just be friends in my opinion, and it will affect every relationship they have. Yes, this is a bit of a pessimistic view, but that’s how these two characters present themselves to me, and I am happy that the film doesn’t feel overly optimistic. It doesn’t feel like everything is solved nice and simply as is the case in most romantic comedies.

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What surprised me early on was the pregnancy of Jesse’s new girlfriend, and then how this film wasn’t actually about him dealing with this new situation, but Celeste having to cope (or not cope, dependent on where in the film’s timeline you look) with this momentous event. The fact that it’s not just a new relationship, but a baby, also gave the situation a sense of urgency. If she hadn’t quite moved on before, she had to now. Jesse whispers to her in the middle of the film how he can’t believe he’s not having a baby with her, and I believe that was one of the things she was struggles with most. Despite repeatedly saying she couldn’t have children with someone so unreliable, I think she had pictured them having a family together, even if only when they first got married. That he was now having a family and getting remarried, and when they weren’t even divorced yet, hurt her more, both because it was so quick and so unexpected.

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I was never really sure if Celeste was actually mourning their relationship or whether she simply wished she moved on first. At one point Jesse even asks her flat out if that’s the reason she’s angry; I don’t think she honestly knows the answer. I found that refreshing: how many times do we really know exactly what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling those emotions. Movies usually don’t allow this nuance; people on screen know how they feel by the end of the film even if they didn’t at the beginning. By the end I wasn’t convinced that either Jesse or Celeste knew what they wanted or how they felt, and I was happy with that. That’s reality; there are very few situations when you know what you want and why you want it. This uncertainty also reminded me of the end of Before Midnight, which had the most ambiguous ending of the three films in the Before series, something that I really liked about it.

Rashida Jones does a good job as Celeste, but Andy Samberg really impressed me as Jesse. I know the actor best from my new favourite show on the telly, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and while he has the same basic foundations in both characters – bit of a loveable goofball, not really in control of his life – the way he plays them are very different. Not being overly familiar with his work, and being familiar with critiques of him, I was expecting much the same character. I have heard from friends and seen on internet comment sections people who say that they were going to watch Nine-Nine because they didn’t like him. From what I can see, this critique of Samberg is uncalled for. He doesn’t play the same character every time as is shown in Celeste and Jesse Forever, so why should he alone put you off a new series or a film?In Celeste and Jesse he plays the role delicately, complimenting Jones’ much more obvious breakdown with a quieter one. That is not to say Jones’ portrayal is bad, it isn’t. But Samberg, an actor known to be loud and obvious, shows the indecision his character feels without having to force-feed his decision-making process to you. It’s not a flashy performance and allows Jones to shine.

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The soundtrack to the film was very good; it doesn’t overpower the film, rather adds to it. One of my favourite scenes was Celeste attending the wedding party of mutual friends. We see people dancing, laughing and then, cut to a beautiful shot of Celeste, outside the tent smoking a cigarette and looking a bit dishevelled. Her and Jesse had agreed to quit smoking (something that pops up again and again in the film), yet here she is, alone at the wedding, him with his pregnant fiancée, and she is outside the tent by herself, allowing herself something they had agreed together to deny themselves. Is it a bit heavy handed? Actually no, as the cinematography was lovely, but especially because the music in the scene was perfect. It had a smoothness that matched the atmosphere in the party as well as suggesting that Celeste was at ease with herself despite her questioning of past decisions. There isn’t really any moment in the film where the music jars; the songs and scores emphasis moments. The film opens with Jesse and Celeste singing along to a Lily Allen song, the lyrics allowing the opening to be both funny and awkward.

Celeste’s forays into dating were both amusing and relatable. While none of the men were complete idiots or bad people, they just weren’t for her. Disastrous may be too strong a word to use, but who hasn’t felt like a bad date is a complete disaster. After those (really bad) fumbles with unsuitable suitors, Paul, who seemed like such a bad match before suddenly is the person she actually might need in the future (Riley was right when she said Celeste was too quick to judge).

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What didn’t I like? Celeste’s friendship with Riley was enjoyable, but it seemed forced. Them crying and hugging at Riley’s house seemed too sudden, there felt like a step was missed in their relationship. When Jesse and Celeste cuddle on her sofa together it seems like an action those characters would take; Riley and Celeste’s relationship just wasn’t there yet. Then again, it might be a meta-comment on how rom-coms develop unnaturally, though that might be a bit deep! Elijah Wood’s character was sorely underused; I would have liked to have seen more of him. Also, not a big fan of the very last scene – I thought it was a bit too cute.

This was a really enjoyable film. Do I think these characters will have happy lives? I’d like to think so but I don’t – their relationship will get in the way. I’m a big believer in men and women’s abilities to keep things platonic but I don’t think that’s an option for these two. It was nice, though, to see a film with an ambiguous, and potentially unhappy, ending, and not feel cheated.

Review: Mr Smith Goes To Washington

About six months ago I watched this little gem of a film and fell completely in love. I am currently trying to watch all the films on IMDB’s Top 250 list, which I know is really cheesy, but it has introduced me to some wonderful films I didn’t know existed, such as this!

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It stars my favourite ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ actor James Stewart. Before anything else, I have to admit one of the reasons I enjoyed this film so much is because of him. I love James Stewart. He brought an energy to every project he worked in and is simply likeable in everything he did, whether it be a grumpy photographer avoiding committing to Grace Kelly and suspects his neighbour of murder in Rear Window, or a man who may or may not be insane as he talks to his best friend, after who the movie Harvey is named, an invisible, 6ft tall bunny rabbit. I have yet to see Vertigo (for shame!), but even a film that I am not as enamoured with as everyone else seems to be, It’s a Wonderful Life, is made enjoyable because of him.

He plays Jefferson Smith a naïve, easy-going leader of a troop of boy rangers in an unnamed state in America. He’s well liked by the community and loved by the kids he leads. He is made a senator by group of corrupt officials, including the Governor and the other state senator, Senator Paine, as well as the man who controls them, Jim Taylor. They believe they can control him. They do not, however, understand how honest and good intentioned he is. Senator Paine doesn’t want to manipulate Smith more than is necessary – as a close friend to Smith’s deceased father, he is a father figure to Jeff and cares for him. He encourages Smith to create a bill of his own, not realising how it will affect his own corrupt plans. After Jefferson discovers Taylor and Paine’s corruption they turn against him, and he realises just how powerful these people are.

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The supporting cast is fun and important, especially ‘Diz’, a journalist, and the President of the Senate. Stewart infuses Jeff Smith with a joy that is uninhibited and infectious. It permeates the film. He can’t believe how lucky he is to be in Washington, to see and discover this great city. As soon as he gets off the train he goes to see the sights, his favourite being the Lincoln Memorial. The shot of Smith standing at the foot of Lincoln’s statue looking up into the marble face, both of them captured in profile, is beautiful, as is the sequence of Smith, a little boy and his grandfather as the child reads Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

As the film progresses you can feel the loss of Smith’s joy as his enemies attack from all directions. His discovery that the man he idolised and trusted, Senator Paine, isn’t the man he thought he was hurts him and the viewer alike, and as you witness Jeff become steadily more broken, it breaks you too.

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I have not yet mentioned another major character in the film as I felt she deserved some space devoted directly to her. For if James Stewart guaranteed that I would like this film, Jean Arthur’s character Saunders made me love it. She is his secretary and knows more about Washington than he probably ever will. She’s smart and sarcastic; if this film wasn’t both made and set in the 1930’s she would have been a senator herself rather than secretary to them. Cynical due to her surroundings Saunders falls for the idealistic Jeff. (But then, who wouldn’t? Of course, my bias towards James Stewart could be blinding my judgement.) The character is wonderful. Arthur allows her steely personality to be warm and not abrasive. Even when hurt she is strong and doesn’t fall to pieces – Smith relies on her far more than she relies on him, something rare in films even now. Funny and intelligent, she is a brilliant creation and makes the film for me.

This isn’t a pure comedy. It will break your heart (at least it broke mine) and cause you to question both those who are meant to lead us as well as the character of people in general. I would guess this is a film that would hold even more meaning if one were American (not being so, I can only speculate). It is funny, but there is more here than just laughs. It is bigger than that; it longs for more than to make you simply chuckle and that’s what makes it wonderful.

Review: The Bridge, Series 1

I began to watch The Bridge (or Broen/Bron in it’s Danish/Swedish form) originally as I thought it would start to heal the True Detective shaped hole in my life. With remakes made in the UK/France and America/Mexico (and apparently more planned) I decided to go for the original, if only to feel like a cultured Times reader. What I was expecting was something along the lines of CSI: Malmo with a little bit of Scandinavian flair and class – that it is not.

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Starting with two bodies found on the bridge that links Sweden and Denmark lying exactly on the international line, two detectives from each country come together to solve the case. So far, so buddy comedy. The characters, however, are one of the reasons that I enjoyed this show as much as I did. Martin, the immediately likeable Danish detective, is funny, easy going and simply bemused rather than irritated with the antics of Saga Noren (more on her in a second) which makes you care about him even more, though it becomes apparent that he has some fairly major character flaws. (Another reason I appreciated this show – when characters made mistakes, it made sense that they made them, it didn’t feel like it was purely a plot device.)

Saga, on the other hand, is immediately much less endearing, though this changes with time. She is socially awkward, blunt and can appear unfeeling with her need to constantly obey the rules. In the first episode there is a woman asking to be let across the bridge so that her husband can receive a heart transplant – she refuses. When Martin lets the ambulance cross, she reports him. She also has difficulty lying, which turns out to be more important than could have originally be thought. There are hidden depths to her character though: there is one scene in which Martin comments that she doesn’t care what people think of her, assuming that to be true, and she denies this to his surprise: she cares what he thinks. There is a sweetness to her character as well as a naivety that is slowly pulled out and revealed to the audience, and with Martin her character develops. That is another thing: there is genuine character development throughout the series, and it feels organic and fresh. I also cannot remember a show where I felt so warmly about the supporting characters, in particular Hans, Saga’s boss, a gentle man who seems to genuinely care about her, and Martin’s family – his current wife Mette, their children, and his estranged son August from his first marriage – who suffer throughout the series as a result of his actions, both past and present.

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So how does the show spin the solving of two dead bodies out into 10 episodes you ask? Well, the bodies aren’t the main focus – the crazed serial killer is. Brilliant, and seemingly uncatchable, ‘TT’ or the Truth Terrorist is always one step ahead of our duo, claiming to be demonstrating the ills in society by forcing innocent people to pay for them. He reveals himself and the start of his crazy schemes at the end of the first episode, and then is always present until the last, the spectacular finale. Seriously, that final episode is good. There are twists and turns as he kills people with no apparent connection between them. Scary, yes, but so enjoyable.

The first series of The Bridge is currently on Netflix (UK) and I binged through it in about three days. It is addictive and so much darker than I thought it would be. There is only one comment I would make, and this is not on the show but about the subtitles. Danish and Swedish are similar enough that you can speak in one and the other will understand you, which is what I know from my Swedish friends. However, not being able to understand either myself I would have liked to have known when someone was speaking Danish or Swedish, maybe through different coloured subtitles. Usually it doesn’t matter, but there were points when the difference in languages felt important. That is, however, a minor quibble to a very well made and entertaining show.

Though, I might have been put off visiting both cities for a while.

Hello

Hi! So, this is my obligatory introduction post. My name is Frances, I’m from the UK. Basically, I love travelling, reading and films, and this blog will hopefully be my way of sharing these passions with others. While I try to travel as much as possible, life gets in the way, so I will end up writing from time to time about where I want to go, as well as what inspires me (hint, it might involve books and films!) as well as where I’ve been. I’m planning on also reviewing books and films every so often.

But, hey, this could all change in a month, so stick around and let’s see where this blog takes us.

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As I do love films, I would like to share this beautiful photo with you, taken at the Oscars earlier this year. All credit to Christopher Polk for this stunning image of the very talented and stylish Lupita Nyong’o.