“Love You, Mean It!”
Grade: A- (SEE IT)
APPARENTLY IF YOU want to play a smart, complicated woman on screen – the kind Hollywood still has trouble conceiving – you have to write the role yourself.
That’s what Rashida Jones did, with a little help from her “Parks and Recreation” costar Will McCormack, to create the breakup comedy “Celeste and Jesse Forever.” Not exactly a romance, Jones’ screenwriting debut is a charming and contemporary take on what’s become as common as matrimony itself: divorce (the amicable kind). This film, which feels fresh and is stuffed with slang, centers on the neurotic Celeste: excessive exerciser, Facebook stalker, pot-smoking author of a book on declining American culture called “Shitegeist.” If Celeste is an irritating character – deceiving herself that she’s actually over her ex – it’s because she feels relatably lifelike.
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger, “Celeste” was filmed in just 23 days for under $1 million. Consequently, the performances have an honest, improvisational inflection as if the actors are actually friends. That’s because they are: Jones and McCormack, who briefly dated in real life, would simulate sex acts using baby-corn and Chapstick when suffering from writer’s block. Here, they have their fictional counterparts (Celeste and Jesse) do the same while in the car and at the wedding of friends Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen) and Beth (Ari Graynor), the latter of whom abruptly leaves a dinner because she objects to the divorced couple’s closeness. There’s nothing but truth-telling in “Celeste and Jesse Forever”; “I go to yoga to meet girls” confesses Celeste’s love-interest Paul (the always dependable Chris Messina). Namaste!
Andy Samburg (“I Love You, Man”) plays Jesse, an oversensitive visual artist living in Celeste’s spare room and suspended in a kind of romantic abeyance while the ink on the divorce papers dries. Ex-wifey is none too happy when Jesse rebounds in a matter of months and, we’re told, “puts a baby in a lady.” When Celeste phones Jesse to help her assemble an IKEA purchase, the two turn to red wine and reminiscing. We all know where that leads. Rewind to when we first met the hipster couple at the film’s opening and we’re not exactly sure what Celeste and Jesse mean to each other as they drive around Los Angeles, cracking inside jokes with their scorched-earth sense of humor. Jesse reminds his soon-to-be-ex-wife that she dislikes the sight of architect Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall, that blasted tuna can of a landmark and an important metaphor for the couple’s romantic life: open and messy and, well, kinda’ lovely.