Recognisable leads plucked from successful U.S. Television series? Check. Female lead who spends the majority of the film suffering humiliation all in order to ‘grow’? Check. Female lead acting in an entirely clueless way about things that she would almost certainly easily comprehend? Check. Gay best friend who appears to have no life beyond the female lead? Check. Marriage scene in the final act involving the best friend characters and an awkward speech from the female lead? Check.
I could go on.
The above are all far too familiar tropes of modern romantic comedies, think Aniston or Heigl, and Celeste and Jesse Forever has every single one, and more. The film is very much a stereotypical romantic comedy in the mould of many that we have seen before but in this instance writers Rashida Jones (who also stars as Celeste) and Will McCormack (who takes a supporting role) and director Lee Toland Krieger are clearly reaching for something else. Unfortunately they never even get close to it.
The film begins by introducing us to the central ‘couple’ of Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg), first through a montage of clips over the title credits and then into scenes of the pair spending time together, sharing in-jokes and putting on silly voices. They are every bit the couple in love, almost sickeningly so, but here comes the switch… they’re separated and about to be divorced. And so the set up for the remainder of the film is in place. Celeste and Jesse are clearly still very much in love and, almost, living together but they seem very confident that they have actually split up. As the film progresses they go through the process of actually splitting up and despite early signs that Jesse is going to find it difficult to move on – a missed opportunity to actually be a little ‘daring’ there – it is Celeste that finds it impossible to cope with.
Why they felt such a strong desire to split up in the first place is actually a little unclear, the only reasons given by Celeste are a little on the shallow side: “The father of my child will have a car…”, but it appears to be mostly motivated by a distance between them in maturity and their respective financial situations. Jesse is a less than successful artist and Celeste is a ‘Trend Forecaster’, one of those wonderfully ever-so-modern occupations that characters in romantic comedies these days must have in order for the film to feel fresh and modern. In reality her job just adds to the many layers of implausibility and lack of focus, as we see her forecasting trends on TV, authoring a book, doing public relations and helping in the designing of a logo for a pop star (Riley Banks played by Emma Roberts), herself a walking cliché pulled straight out of the late nineties.
Whilst little about the film really convinces, beyond a minor amount of chemistry between the two leads, we are treated to some rather aesthetically pleasing cinematography from relative newcomer David Lanzenberg, who clearly got the memo about this being a hip indie and fills every scene with auburn hues, slow motion and a great deal of shots with a shallow depth of field. The variety of shots he employs are pleasant enough to look at but they rarely communicate anything meaningful and the shifting between different styles ultimately leaves one with the sense of someone idly flicking through Instagram filters, searching for the one that simply looks the ‘coolest’.
Celeste and Jesse Forever is not an affront to cinema or anything of the sort but it is mediocre from beginning to end and if it wasn’t for the frippery obscuring what is at its core it would undoubtedly not have received as many rather positive reviews. Whilst films such as the rather brilliant Crazy, Stupid, Love and performances such as Anna Faris’ in What’s Your Number? are casually dismissed by critics for their romantic comedy roots, it seems unfortunate that a new wave of far more middle of the road fare – see also this year’s Liberal Arts – seem to be getting something of a free pass for tapping into an outdated fondness for the ‘American Indie’.