Sundance Journal: ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’

Many cynics complain that Sundance’s selection process has become more about celebrities than about introducing new artists. If that’s truly the case, there’s an upside to it. Known faces appear in films outside their norm and try new aspects of filmmaking. Sure, most of us already know Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg, but ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’ lets us see what they’re capable of beyond their typical comfort zones.

The film was written by Jones (who also plays the lead), and we get to see that Samberg can play more than just a goofy guy (which is basically what he is in real life) on ‘Saturday Night Live’. You’ll grow a greater appreciation of them both in what I’m calling a comedy with a strong dose of reality.

Celeste and Jesse (Jones and Samberg, respectively) are the perfect couple. Not only do they do sappy stuff like finish one another’s sentences, they find each other’s jokes absolutely hilarious and never tire from being connected at the hip. But there’s a hidden problem beneath it all – after six years of marriage, they’ve been separated for six months and they still act this way, as if nothing has changed at all. Their impending divorce is all Celeste’s idea. She thinks that Jesse is never going to fully grow up and she can’t see him as the father of her children. With the way things are going, she believes that they can continue their lifelong friendship without having to be married anymore. However, Jesse is against it. He doesn’t vocalize it, but he knows that they’ll be together again and is optimistically waiting for her to come around.

Following the advice of a buddy, Jesse starts seeing other people to make Celeste jealous and realize what she let go. Unfortunately, it all goes wrong when his new girlfriend gets pregnant. Celeste has all along wanted Jesse to make a drastic change for her so that she could see him as the father of her children, but now he’s going to be a father to another woman’s child.

The opening of the film is very quirky and extremely funny, just as good as the best of the recent R-rated comedies. But ‘Celeste and Jesse’ slowly transitions into a dark comedy with serious tones and themes – not unlike ‘Bridesmaids’. Jones shows that she’s capable of writing hilarious and heart-felt content, while Samberg shows that he can pull off serious moments just fine. As the film gets darker and more serious, Samberg steps up and plays a multifaceted character unlike we’ve seen him try before.

The cut that’s playing at Sundance was finished just one week ago. During a post-screening Q&A, director Lee Toland Krieger, the cast (including Jones and Elijah Wood) and the co-writer informed us that this is not the final cut of the film. It lacks fine polishing. Aside from running a little long, it’s already a solid and funny movie well-worth watching. By the time it’s ready for distribution, it ought to be even better.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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