August 6, 2012

Review: Breaking Upwards – 'Celeste and Jesse Forever'

Sometimes, I forget how much I love romantic comedies. They are the original cinematic genre for the masses, after all. Unfortunately, most of them (made by studios) are awful and predictable and their independent counterparts fall plight to the manic pixie dream girl. Fortunately, Celeste and Jesse Forever starring, co-written, and produced by Rashida Jones (as Celeste) is mostly a triumph of emotional honestly and subtle, revealing humour.

It's more than a breakup comedy about a young married couple struggling to stay friends after separating. The wistful comedy moves along well, following Jones with a playful self-awareness and healthy dose of quirk. Jones plays off Saturday Night Live alumnus Andy Samberg (as her ex Jesse) and a strong cast populated with hip actors playing trendy young professionals in Los Angeles.

The film could easily devolve into a barrage of cultural references with plot points about trend spotting, technology, and hipster life. Written by Jones and actor Will McCormack, who has a supporting role, the story is very loosely based on their own relationship. You can see and feel the personal touches with Samberg acting off his goofy demeanour slowly revealing depth as his Jesse tries to evolve into an adult.

Many rom coms lack a consistent visual style and all to often are glossy and bright. Here, the movie maintains a visually appealing music video aesthetic throughout and I mean that in the best way possible. From director Lee Toland Krieger, the framing, composition, colour, and style fit the characters and their surroundings. Krieger films Los Angeles like a local, using understated, more casual settings and locales, adding to a nice overall cinematic atmosphere.

The film is anchored by Jones' strong, reserved, and understated performance as she goes through a range of emotions. She's not afraid of acting out, being ugly, or unsympathetic. We've all been there and recognize the behaviour. It has all the trappings of romantic comedies with messy breakups, quirky best friends, gay coworkers, beautiful rivals, friendly drug dealers, and so on. However, it sublimates and embraces these conventions to build interesting character dynamics and development.

Celeste and Jesse Forever is a charming yet heartbreaking story about love, loss, and letting go. The cultural and emotional touchstones are honest and refreshing. It has a smart, underscored script, is well acted and directed. Everyone and everything is relatable. It charms and captures small moments of life, work, and love well. Despite our best intentions and feelings, things sometimes just don't work out.

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