Rashida Jones has spunk. Her performances in Parks and Recreation, Our Idiot Brother and I Love You, Man have the hallmarks of a promising comic actor.
Celeste and Jesse Forever marks Jones’ move into screenwriting, and is a more sober affair. But the opening moments don’t augur well. The credits are intended to resemble photographic stills, chronicling the heady moments of new love. To the strains of Lily Allen, Celeste and Jesse kiss amongst aisles of library books, sporting matching thick-rimmed glasses. We see “C+J” inscribed in the sand. But with each successive shot, the icing on the wedding cake begins to sour, and faces betray signs of strain.
They are a cute indie couple – with a difference. Jesse is the earthy, laidback foil to Celeste’s high-powered career-woman (She’s an in-demand “trend forecaster”). They have all the trappings of a middle-class LA lifestyle: iPhones, IKEA, yoga, tea drunk out of a glass. Instead of the usual displays of affection such as an embrace or a kiss, they exchange a unique brand of hand signal.
But on a ‘double date’ with best friends Beth and Tucker, it transpires that Celeste and Jesse are in fact separated, and the ease with which they’ve transitioned from spouses to buddies irks their friends.
“Beth, I love Jesse dearly but he doesn’t have a checking account. Or dress shoes. The father of my children will have a car.” I get it. We’re supposed to cringe at her shameless superficiality.
What I can’t get over is the self-indulgent tone of this film. It is particularly intolerable considering that Celeste (and she is the most developed character) is just a fundamentally unlikeable character. I understand that she is conflicted. She actively encourages Jesse to move on with someone new, but when he does, she realises too late that she still has feelings (admitting to him later “I was cavalier with you”).
This is compounded by the fact that the people around her are endlessly accommodating and neglect to call out her modus operandi for what it is: passive-aggressive selfish bullshit.
Celeste chastises a man for jumping the queue in a cafe, but later, she scopes out a local bookstore for copies of her recently published book “Shitegeist”, and takes the liberty of ‘rearranging’ the copies, from an obscure shelf onto the ‘employee picks’ display.
At the wedding of her best friend Beth, a miserable Celeste guzzles wine, and despite delivering the requisite blessings for the newlyweds, her speech degenerates into a bitter reflection on the hard lessons of relationships and growing apart.
In her characteristic blunt style, Riley comments: “It sounds like the most embarrassing speech ever. How are you going to show your face in front of your friends again?” (Pop starlet Riley Banks is Celeste’s youthful charge. Their relationship is one of catty hostility until the shared experience of man troubles forges an unlikely bond). Celeste, however, appears to feel no remorse: “Weirdly, I’m kinda happy that I did it. I feel better somehow”.
Celeste does not want for male attention. Paul, a financial analyst she meets at yoga, is undeterred by her frosty demeanour, and is determined that she take his business card. A private serenade on guitar from a 22-year-old fails to impress. Even her dope dealer makes a pass.
Perhaps it is the dim beginnings of something resembling self-reflection that causes Celeste to pull back from a blossoming romance with Paul. “I can’t do this…I’m getting a divorce…I think I have to do this alone.” Paul, eternally understanding, offers, “When you’re ready, you call me. Okay?”
And now for the saccharine ending. Celeste and Jesse emerge from a high-rise law firm, having signed their divorce papers, and high-5 each other like real chums: “we nailed that divorce”. But as the last dregs of daylight drain from the sky and they stall going their separate ways, the mood turns more poignant. They eventually part, teary-eyed but full of mutual goodwill.
So the amicable divorce is possible after all.
But wait, there’s more. While “Cheerful music” plays (that’s what the caption actually reads), Celeste is driving, and rings Paul (and we don’t see the pedestrians and cyclists she lays waste by the side of the road) to warn him not to give his card to another girl in yoga, because – wait for it – she’s ready.
My shoelaces were never tied so neatly. Margaret gave this 4 stars, David 3 and a half. 1 star from me.