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.

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