Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)
Director: Lee Toland Grieger
Cast: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood
Plot: A divorcing couple tries to maintain their friendship while they both pursue other people.
Rating: NC16 for language, sexual content and drug use.
Can a married couple get a divorce and still see each other every day? That is the question that drives this relatively unknown indie film that sees a strong and surprisingly endearing performance by lead actress Rashida Jones, who is also a co-writer and executive producer of the film.
Jones, who caught my eye in the romantic-comedy hit I Love You, Man (2009), comes into her own in this low-key romance-drama about the intricacies of relationships, romantic or otherwise.
Forgive its cheesy title, for Celeste and Jesse Forever is actually quite a likable film. It goes on without any fanfare, focusing on its well-written lead characters, and delivers a story that works adequately on a relational level. Audiences will like this film because it is an earnest portrait of life - in all of its joy, sadness, uncertainty, and regret.
The screenplay is sharp when it needs to be, and the humour is well-punctuated throughout the film. There is never a moment that doesn't engage you at some level.
But as strange as it may sound, Celeste and Jesse Forever remains unimpressive if you see it as a film on its own. Remove Jones from the picture and replace her with a less charming actress, and the flaws of the film will begin to show. This is the kind of film that would play better on a television set (or laptop) on a lazy Saturday afternoon than on the big screen.
Perhaps there is a lack of some sort of poetic cinematic quality that films such as Linklater's Before Sunset (2004) have in abundance. Perhaps there is also a lack of freshness, as some of the scenes feel like they have been reconstructed from the genre's recycling bin.
Celeste and Jesse Forever is still enjoyable while it lasts. Director Lee Toland Grieger sets the entry point quite low, hence it is not difficult to be emotionally invested in the characters from the opening scene onwards. It is a no-frills genre film with a distinct indie touch that will please audiences with fair expectations.
It doesn't challenge viewers to think of the state of their own relationships, but what it does quite excellently is to portray the intertwining nature of human relationships with heart. And that heart comes from Jones' outstanding performance. She will be one to look out for in the near future.
Verdict: A strong and endearing performance by Rashida Jones pulls this unimpressive, above-average romance-drama together.
GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)