BFI London Film Festival: CELESTE & JESSE FOREVER
It took approximately four seconds of its cloying, clichéd, photobooth-cum-Instagram montage opening sequence for me to decide that I hate Celeste & Jesse Forever. Nothing that happens in the subsequent 91 minutes and 56 seconds of its tedious, undercooked Am-Indie rom-com narrative does anything to remedy that initial impression. In fact, on a scale of extremist intolerance, at the four second mark I was somewhere around Andrew Mitchell’s opinion of the police; by the closing credits I had reached a level akin to a fanatical imam’s stance on badly dubbed Youtube trailers for movies about the prophet Muhammed that probably don’t exist. If there was an embassy for Celeste & Jesse Forever, I would call for it to be burnt to the ground.
A first stab at writing from Rashida Jones (who also transitions from supporting parts in Our Idiot Brother and the like to star in this), the film follows its eponymous couple through a drawn-out divorce, as they try to maintain their lifelong friendship in the face of a supposed romantic incompatibility that’s seen their marriage fizzle out. It’s evidently aiming for the kind of naturalistic, goofy yet mature rom-coms peddled to great success by the House of Apatow, but the writing is so terrible that it skews horribly wide of the mark. The dialogue is horribly forced and expository—at one point Celeste literally talks to herself for the lack of any superior narrative tool—while Jones and director Lee Toland Krieger handle several mid-scene shifts between comedy and heartache with the tact and subtlety of a rape-alarm in a library. And when the moments for poignant sentimentality arrive, the script falls back onto dick-jokes.
As for the characters, it’s impossible to have any investment in the tiresome ins and outs of their relationship. Andy Samberg (who plays Jesse) may be some sort of SNL darling but he simply isn’t leading man material. Jones’ Celeste, meanwhile, is a ‘trend forecaster’. What in the fuck is a ‘trend forecaster’, you may be rightly querying. Well, apparently it’s a job that people are allowed to have in Hollywood’s version of realism, and which allows Celeste to do things like snarkily and accurately guess at the defining characteristics and purchases of a potential suitor she’s just met to demonstrate how intuitive and ‘always right’ she is – an attribute which constitutes the basis for tension with ‘easygoing’ Jesse. Sick-note.
Pretty bizarre, then, that Celeste displays such a misanthropic superiority-complex towards stuff like hipster health foods or the young popstar her agency has been hired to do branding for; or that she should declare a hideously tacky salsa bar that she gets taken to on a date ‘really cool’. It’s a stretch to attribute something so sophisticated as irony to this irritating mess of a film, but if there is any it’s in the fact that a ‘trend forecaster’ could probably have helped it to grate at least a little less.