Thursday, August 23, 2012

Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012) – Review

Review: Celeste & Jesse Forever is sort of a mix between a quirky indie romantic comedy and a hipster music video. The film is about two best friends Celeste and Jesse who got married young and are now in the midst of a divorce. However, they refuse to move on constantly spending every minute together. Things change and feelings are hunt when they each try to move on. Director Lee Toland Krieger and writers (both of whom also star in the film) Rashida Jones and Will McCormack seem to firstly want to make a romantic drama/comedy without all the generic tired convention that plagues the genre. In this, they have succeeded. The film is dynamic in its emotional portrayal of Celeste and Jesse and the journey that they must go through to be okay with moving on. Their emotions feel very natural, organically stemming from the narrative and strong character work. Comedy also plays an important role in the film, as it has some great comedic moments. The comedy is used well to disperse the emotional depression funk that Celeste (the film’s protagonist) finds herself in for a large portion of the film, keeping the overall tone more on the light side than a more deeply brutal romantic drama. The characters are also a strong component to the overall narrative. Celeste and Jesse are given a lot of nuanced and relatable moments allowing the audience to connect with them, and thereby buy into the emotions of the film and get where each character is coming from without being beaten over the head with character clichés. The supporting characters are mostly made up of comedic bit players and genre specific fill characters, but as the film primarily focuses on Celeste and Jesse the supporting characters really do not need to be more than they are. As a romance drama with comedic moments, the film works quite well. However, where things sort of become questionable is in the sort force-fed hipster style. Almost all the characters, locations and stylistic choices play into the indie or hipster aesthetic. Everyone is dressed in a chic hip fashion. The characters only frequent ironic or cool locals. And, the visual style sort of goes back and forth between being very intimate using a handheld camera and being detached exhibiting very stylized and aesthetically interesting shots (many of which are in slow motion and accompanied by music – and look like they are straight out of a music video). Aesthetically, the film is reminiscent of Garden State (except it is not as compelling, because hundreds of indie films have tried to replicate that film’s style and thus now when films attempt the same feel and look it seems generic). The highly stylized moments are on their own fantastic (particularly think of the sequence of Celeste smoking while outside the wedding tent), but they somewhat contradict the comprehensive feel of the film. Also, the film’s pacing is a bit problematic, due to its unorthodox narrative structure. Trying something different narratively is great, especially in a genre rife with cliché like romance. However, that said, this film’s structure seems to circle back on itself a few times, leading to it feeling like it is coming to an end, only to rehash sort of the same scenes again, and then do it again. This leads to it feeling slower and longer than it is. The structure is a product of the filmmakers wanting the narrative and characters to feel real, and they do. But, from a narrative standpoint, this probably could have been done in more economical efficient manner that flows better. Overall, despite some narrative structure issues and stylistic discontinuity, Celeste & Jesse Forever is a good romantic drama/comedy built on strong lead characters and honest emotion with some cool stylistic moments.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Lee Toland Krieger has some other indie films (none of which I have seen), but Celeste & Jesse Forever is his debut for a bigger cinematic audience (receiving limited distribution after the film’s success at Sundance). He is certainly a competent director with some great aesthetic ideas, and he gets good performances (which is most important). I look forward to seeing what he does next. For Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, this film marks their screenwriting debut. The script incorporates some good drama and comedy moments, but most noteworthy are the strong emotionally genuine characters. Again, like Krieger, I look forward to what they write next. The score by Zach Cowie and Sunny Levine is good, but overshadowed by the great soundtrack. David Lanzenberg’s cinematography is fantastic during the film’s more stylized moments. He is someone to keep an eye on as a potential rising star. Ian Phillips’s production design is good as well. It plays off the characters and the overall aesthetic of the film. Performance wise, the film has a lot of good work in smaller roles. Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olson, Rob Huebel, and Will McCormack are good in these smaller parts. Chris Messina, Emma Roberts and especially Elijah Wood (who steals his scenes) are also good in support. Andy Samberg, who is generally very funny, is (somewhat surprisingly) good playing a much more dramatic role as Jesse. He does not have as much heavy lifting, but does his fair share of superb emotional character work. Along cinematographer Lanzenberg, the other star to come out of this film is Rashida Jones. In addition to co-writing it, she is fantastic in portraying Celeste. She is funny and dramatically compelling, playing Celeste as sort of a petty know-it-all who wants to be in control. All of which seems to compromise her happiness. I hope to see her get more leading work based off of this film.

Summary & score: Celeste & Jesse Forever is finally the romantic drama/comedy that is not just another throwaway cliché filled waste of time. It is dramatically and emotionally engaging. 7/10

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