Sunday, August 5, 2012

Celeste and Jesse Forever

Rashida Jones, with her olive complexion, smokey voice, and adorably nerdy styled bangs, has pegged a reliable rep as a comic supporting player on television shows like Parks and Recreation and straight man girlfriend turns in films like I Love You, Man.  With an ironic bent and line readings that eschew more ironic as the line continues, she's an alluring talent, and in fashioning the indie romantic comedy (or non-romantic dramedy) Celeste and Jesse Forever, for which she also co-produced and co-wrote, she's given herself a role to fully capitalize and chew on.  Playing half of a newly separated couple who have been together since puberty, and can't seem to quite let go, she adeptly showcases both a confirmed fit for comedy and newly-instated confidence for character control and depth.  And while her fragility and gracefulness shines through, even as her Celeste is falling at the seems, it's apparent from the first reel (or first sequences in your DCP-showcased screening) that while Jones is capable, it's what surrounds her that's wobbly, and becomes her and her films ultimate undoing.  Co-written by Will McCormack (who also co-stars as a flaky, sitcom-ready pot dealer) and directed by Lee Toland Krieger, Celeste and Jesse Forever have moments that feel achingly true in mood and tune for a relationship that's crumbled, but can't quite settle on a theme-- it's manic and out of sync comic on moment, and depressing the next, full of caricatured interlopers, yet heartfelt at times when Celeste and Jesse (the Jesse is played with nimble ease by SNL- alum Andy Samberg) are given a nod to acknowledge the situation.

Celeste and Jesse starts with a montage of nerdy puppy love.  All giggles and sly glances in big nerdy glasses, and playfulness in a photo booth-- even indie films these days can't quite transgress the happy times in a quite realistic way.  And as cute as the setup is, we learn in the next sequence that the best friends, the seemingly eternally forever duo are actually separated, with an impending divorce.  That they spend so much time together-- Jesse even lives in Celeste's back house-- is weird, and inappropriate from their friends perspective.  The feeling is that, even through the murkier stretches of the film, there really isn't much reason to be seen as to why they parted anyway.  There's glimpses for sure-- she's an uptight trendsetter-- a successful Type A career woman; he's a slacker artist of some kind, with obvious Peter Pan-syndrome, but that's mere archetypal roles, and Celeste and Jesse Forever never quite digs deep enough to really explore the relationship itself to expand on why the audience should care so much about their aftermath.  Despite some tension, their still goofy and cuddly around each other, enjoying in-jokes, stupid accents and adolescent games-- even a drunken hook-up doesn't raise the dramatic stakes.

Which would be fine, except the film begs to be taken seriously outside hipster, sitcom-level schtick.  Celeste nearly bottoms out when a mid-film revelation about Jesse expands.  Krieger responds to this by visually cuing over-the-top stretches to mark her venture to the rabbit hole-- distorted shots when she's confused, uncomfortable close-ups when she's sad.  Jones responds nicely, acutely jetting all over the place emotionally, in less than likable stretches, but perhaps needed a better editor to reel her in to make a more cohesive center-- it's okay for the star of the movie to be a bitch from time to time; but it's not quite okay for her not to make much sense from scene to scene.  It's further frustrating that the talented supporting cast is mostly wasted for hokey characters that float about, mostly coming into to soothe the tormented ego of Celeste.  They include her friend Beth, played substance free by emerging character actress Ari Graynor, the in his-own movie co-writer McCormack as her pot dealer\guru, Chris Messina as a the guy stupid enough to fall for her, Emma Roberts as a diva pop star who her industry-related-somehow company is managing, and Elijah Wood as her un-flamboyantly gay business partner.

Celeste and Jesse Forever acknowledges nearly every staple cliche of the romantic comedy genre, and has  a beats that even harken back to genre perennial When Harry Met Sally, as it asks the same question, as to whether and man and woman can really ever be just friends.  In the two decades plus since, Celeste and Jesse maybe have it harder-- consider Harry and Sally didn't have the opportunity to Facebook stalk one another and other social media bombardment to contend with, however Celeste and Jesse the movie forgot to realize that merely making an ironic nod to those cliches isn't the same as transgressing them.  C

The Paperboy trailer: Or the Film Where Nicole Kidman famously urinates on Zac Efron

The full trailer for The Paperboy, Lee Daniels' follow-up to his 2009's Oscar-heralded Precious made an auspicious debut at this years Cannes Film Festival, and it's perhaps easy to see why from its impression.  Tonally all over the place, a Southern Gothic noir that pins Kidman as Southern trash, and Efron, the unlikeliest, as her leading man.  Millennium Films is bravely releasing this one as an awards hopeful, perhaps on balsiness alone. 
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