Wednesday, August 1, 2012

CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER: Chemistry rules in a rom-com to cherish from Krieger, Jones, McCormack and Samberg

You've heard of that much-vaunted "chemistry" between certain performers that seems to literally light up the screen? Once you get a load of Rashida Jones (above, left, and below, right) and Andy Samberg (below, left, and above, right) in the first few moments of the new and unusual rom-com, CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER, you may want to redefine the term. These two performers are so attuned to each other, to themselves, and to their specific performance style and how it interacts with and grows off the other that to watch them is to be, well, born again. But in a delightfully non-fundamentalist manner.

Not everyone may agree with my assessment. In fact, the couple these two have joined for dinner in the first scene of the film definitely don't. Played by Ari Graynor (below, left, as Jones' BFF) and Eric Christian Olsen (below, right, as Graynor's guy), they're annoyed as hell about this cute interplay between the characters essayed by Samberg and Jones. Once we discover the reason for their annoyance, the plot kicks into action and we're off & running.

As usual, the less said about plot, the better. Enjoy the surprises along the route, and if you imagine you know, midway or even toward the beginning -- smartypants that you are -- how this little tale of love, loss and redefinition will play out, think again. This is rom-com with more "dram" (as in drama) than usual. And yet is remains very funny throughout. And a lot more true to "love," as that phenomenon is experienced by 30-somethings who reside in the Los Angeles area, than are many other movies in this genre.

Chemistry is also apparent, by the way, in the terrifically well-cast and -acted performances from the ensemble here -- which includes the likes of Chris Messina, the go-to guy for just about anything you need; Emma Roberts, above, as an up-and-coming musical star to the audience we used to call the bubble-gum crowd (is it me, or is Ms Roberts growing more versatile and more assured with each new role?); Elijah Wood, below, as Jones' sweet gay boss; and Rebecca Dayan as the beautiful young woman who comes (back) into Samberg's life.

Co-writer (with Ms Jones), Will McCormack, shown at right in the photo at bottom, also appears in the ensemble as another friend in the group. He's fine, as is everyone on view, but I think it is the screenplay, more than any single other element, that makes this movie work as well as it does. It's smart about people, particularly the L.A. variety, and it's both quick and (usually) quite light on its feet. Unlike so many rom-coms, this one forces you stay alert. You have to make connections on your own; there's less spoon-feeding of the usual elements ensured to make you feel happy and secure.

Jones and McCormack have also written the woman's character in a fuller and less friendly fashion than we often see. Celeste (above) is a hypocrite in many ways and too intent on being (and too certain that she is) always right. But she's also smart and intuitive and pretty and sweet -- sad, too -- so that we still care for her. Jesse (below), being a man, is less complicated on the surface (perhaps all the way to the core), and quite a child. But he is immensely likable. In his best scene in the film, Samberg's Jesse grows angry so well and so sturdily that he surprises us -- and himself.

So who directed this little light-and-dark love story? I usually place the director near the top of the post. No disrespect here, it just worked out to mention him later to close the piece. If you had the good fortune to see a small independent film from 2009 called The Vicious Kind (you can stream it via Netflix), you'll be familiar with the work of Lee Toland Krieger, who both wrote and directed that odd and oddly appealing movie. Krieger knows about dark themes and how to bring them into the light -- and vice-versa -- and his sensibility seems awfully close to that of Jones' and McCormack's (if it wasn't to begin with, he's done a yeoman job of aligning it). His pacing, his attention to bringing out the best in even the smallest roles, his refusal to get too "stylish" but instead concentrate on character and event, and above all his ability to make that aforementioned chemistry absolutely palpable amongst the entire cast -- all this helps bring the movie home.

Celeste and Jesse Forever (the film's tag line, "A Loved Story," is perfect: short, pointed, ironic, real), from Sony Pictures Classics and running just 89 minutes, opens Friday, August 3 in New York and Los Angeles. As soon as I can determine the theatrical venues in both cities, I'll add them to this post.


TrustMovies attended a particularly enjoyable roundtable interview between the film's co-writer/actors, Ms Jones and Mr. McCormack, and its director, Mr. Krieger, and a half dozen of us bloggers. The questions were smart and germane and the filmmakers' answers were even better. All three proved thoughtful, well-spoken and genuinely interested in communicating. This is so different from the odd time in which you get a performer who is simply bored as hell with all that's going on. And it is hard to blame him or her, when they've probably had to do this a thousand  times already. Still, how lovely and fun it is to sit around talking with young professionals who still have their enthusiasm at the ready.

Among the topics under discussion were love and relationships in both life and the movies, and just now, listening to a recording of that roundtable, it strikes me that there are an awful lot of "spoilers" present and spoken of. So -- because I'd rather have you enjoy the movie fully, surprises and all -- I think it best to just thank the performers/filmmakers for their time, and suggest you see this enjoyable, unusual movie ASAP.

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