Thursday, October 18, 2012

Man on Film: Celeste and Jesse Forever

Full disclosure: I saw this and a bunch of other flicks that I'll roll brief reviews out for over the coming weeks over the summer. As you'll see here, this wasn't necessarily because I didn't like the films but rather was a byproduct of my busy schedule during the baseball season. Regardless, here is one of many backlogged Man on Film entries that will be heavily sprinkled in here.

Going into Celeste and Jesse Forever, I had trailer-fueled trepidations that had been at least in part alleviated by the myriad interviews that co-scribe and star Rashida Jones did leading up to its release. If there was one thing that worried me more than anything (other than my general doubt in Andy Samberg), it was the hand heart sign that Jones and Samberg exchange multiple times in the trailer and the iceberg of saccarine cuteness whose tip it conceivably shewed. 

Thankfully Celeste and Jesse Forever didn't fall into the pit that seemingly every indie rom-com over the past decade did, not revelling in its quirk, not falling in love with its own preciousness. Moreover, as Jones wrote the movie with herself in mind to star and co-wrote it with Will McCormack, the cast of characters are actually interesting and layered; the very fact that [apparently skilled] scribes of both sexes crafted the characters in consort with one another makes for a romantic comedy in which those characters are written with the insight of someone who actually knows how men and women think. All too often, this fare is one-dimensional, predictable, and out of touch with one of the two sexes. Even the better works within the genre have only the aspirations of being a modestly intelligent pastiche, self-referentially laying the genre conventions out on display, entirely too content with its self-awareness. 

Using Jones and McCormack's script that simply strives to be genuine while silently bucking convention, director Lee Toland Krieger follows up the stellar indie 2009 Adam Scott vehicle The Vicious Kind with another winner. This time working with a larger cast and canvas, he fills out the cast with a slew of gifted and hilarious supporting performers such as Ari Graynor, Rob Huebel, Eric Christian Olsen, Elijah Wood, and the aforementioned McCormack. He also gets a surprisingly strong performance from Emma Roberts as an ingenue pop star and a predictably outstanding performance from Chris Messina, who it seems I spend a lot of time lauding, both here and in the real world.

As for the leads, Jones is great, having given herself a role with some real meat to it and making one wish she were given more to do on Parks & Rec. At the very least, one can hope that she'll continue to write roles for herself that aren't the standard girlfriend/wife roles that wait for nearly all actresses in Hollywood. The surprise is that Andy Samberg is actually very good. By far the more sympathetic of the titular characters, he is vulnerable, likable, funny, and relatable, all traits that I cannot remember myself associating with Samberg in his past projects.

With nearly everything going for it, Celeste and Jesse Forever is the most pleasant of surprises. It trudges through the muck that the genre of rom-com and the equally suspect sub-genre of indie rom-com and comes out the other side exceptionally unsullied, unlike nearly all that went before it.

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