Festival gem: Celeste and Jesse Forever

Divorce Los Angeles style is the subject of this mumblecore romcom, a charming highlight of today’s Festival schedules.

Samuel Wigley

A thirtysomething romantic comedy with a difference, Lee Toland Krieger’s Celeste and Jesse Forever begins with a break-up and goes on to chart the choppy waters of separation for two people whose long-time chemistry is suddenly out of whack.

What’s it about?

High school sweethearts Celeste (Rashida Jones, from Parks and Recreation and the American version of The Office) and Jesse (Andy Samberg, best known for his appearances on Saturday Night Live and in the sitcom Cuckoo) seem inseparable, but after six years of marriage trend analyst Celeste announces that she wants to separate. She’s decided that she wants more from a relationship than her amiable soul mate can offer…

Who made it?

Lee Toland Krieger’s directorial debut was 2006’s December Ends. His second film The Vicious Kind, based on his own screenplay, screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, winning two Independent Spirit Awards. Neil LaBute, who mentored Krieger at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema and Television, served as executive producer. Celeste and Jesse Forever is his third feature.

What’s special about it?

Co-written by Rashida Jones (who plays Celeste) and Will McCormack, Celeste and Jesse Forever stands out from the romcom crowd with its smart and emotionally incisive script. Though it begins with the rupture of divorce, it’s really a very funny film about the odd, irreplaceable quirks and mannerisms that exist between two people whose lives have intertwined around each other… for better or worse. Acutely observed, it will also strike a chord with anyone in a long-term relationship who’s experienced a sudden panic that their chosen partner may not be the one for them.

What the critics are saying

David Lewis, San Francisco Chronicle:

Both old-fashioned and modern, both funny and melancholic, the witty, heartfelt Celeste and Jesse Forever is populated by moments that at first appear all too familiar, then turn out to surprise you. […] We’ve seen people like this on the screen many times, but Jones and Samberg play off each other beautifully and imbue these folks with warmth, depth and vulnerability – without compromising their characters. […] One could quibble that the film is self-consciously clever at times, and the project, influenced by When Harry Met Sally…, could jokingly be called ‘When Celeste Divorced Jesse…’ But this film has a voice of its own. And at a time when the romantic comedy seems to be a lost art form, that’s saying something.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

As expected, Jones and Samberg nail every laugh. More surprisingly, they also play their characters for real, letting confusion and hurt seep in between the sillier setups. Jones, who co-wrote the sharply funny and touching script with actor Will McCormack, is simply glorious. And Samberg shines in a grounded performance that digs deep. […] What really lifts Celeste and Jesse Forever above the rom-com herd, besides breakout star performances from Jones and Samberg, is the movie’s willingness to replace clichés with painful truths. It’s irresistible.

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