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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Sundance Review: Celeste and Jesse Forever

If you were hoping for Celeste and Jesse Forever, one of the most buzzed about titles going into Sundance this year, to be this year’s Like Crazy, you’re in luck. Beautifully written by Will McCormack and Rashida Jones (the writing debut for both actors), deftly directed by Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind), and effortlessly acted by Jones and Andy Samberg in the lead roles, Celeste and Jesse Forever is exactly the kind of gem you have to think buyers at Sundance will be salivating over. It’s charming, it’s touching, and it’s very accessible to a mainstream audience.

The film explores what happens when Celeste and Jesse (Jones and Samberg), who seem on the surface to be the perfect couple, decide to amicably divorce. All goes pretty well at first, so long as Jesse’s living in his artist’s studio behind the house and the pair are still hanging out every day. After all, they’re best friends, so why should they have to give that up just because they’re splitting up? Sure, their friends think it’s weird, but they’re doing them a favor, too, by not making them choose between them. What could possibly go wrong?

With a lesser script, this would play out in all kinds of lame cliches that would have had me inwardly groaning, but the arcs of both characters are so remarkably imagined and well-drawn that everything about Celeste and Jesse’s relationship felt very real – painfully real – to me. Having gone through a relatively amicable divorce and then the whole process of moving on into other relationships with my children’s father in the past couple years, there are certainly things about my personal life that I brought into watching this film play out. For me, the writing of the character of Celeste – this driven, in-control, strong woman who has to be “right” all the time, who fails to see and nurture the positive things about her relationship with Jesse until it’s too late to go back and fix what’s broken, was wrenching and real. I’ll say this: After the screening, there were lots of weepy-eyed, sniffly women in the rest room talking about how true this film felt to them.

I think of both Jones and Samberg more as comedic actors, and they certainly bring a level of playfulness to their respective roles that’s particularly effective in making the close friendship of these characters feel absolutely believable. But this script requires both actors to bring their dramatic chops as well, and they deliver on that front too. The supporting performances, particularly by Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen as an engaged couple who are Celeste and Jesse’s best friends and McCormack as a likable pot dealer bemoaning the impact of medical marijuana on the economy of his drug dealing business, are also solid. Emma Roberts turns up as a flavor-of-the-month pop star who Celeste despises on principle but has to work with when her branding company takes her on as a client. There’s nothing at all wrong with Roberts’ performance here, and I’m delighted to see her in a project like this, but from a story standpoint this, for me, was a bit of a weak spot in terms of whether it really needed to be there. It’s a fairly harmless diversion, plot-wise, but it’s not what I’d consider an essential element of the storytelling. But that’s a small quibble for what’s overall quite an excellent film.

This is a very different kind of film than Krieger’s previous Sundance effort, The Vicious Kind (a film I still feel was vastly under-appreciated in its intelligence, depth and complexity). Nonetheless, you can see his particular style of storytelling in both films, in the way he has of getting his actors to dig under their skins and really find who these people are, and bringing them to life in a way that’s relatable. This is a superb job of direction. I do think there are a few places here and there where the film could still use a little tightening and tweaking (Krieger said in the intro that they just finished it a week-and-a-half ago), but there’s plenty of time to smooth out those few bumps before release if the film gets distribution – and I’d be surprised it if doesn’t. This one’s a winner.

One Response to “Sundance Review: Celeste and Jesse Forever”

  1. phil says:

    does anyone know if they get get back together…?

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DEADLINE: How does a visualist feel about people watching your films on a phone or VOD?
REFN: It depends on what kind of movie you make. We had great success with Only God Forgives on multiple platforms in the U.S. Young people will decide how they see it, when they want to see it. Don’t try to fight it. Embrace it. That’s a wonderful opportunity. We’re at the most exciting time since the invention of the wheel, in terms of creativity because distribution and accessibility have changed everything. A camera is still a camera whether it’s digital or not; there’s still sound; an actor is an actor. Ninety-nine percent of what you do is going to be seen on a smart phone – I know this is the greatest thing ever made because it allows people to choose, watching what you do on this format or go into a theater and see it on a screen. That means more people than ever will see what I do, which is personally satisfying in terms of vanity. But you have to be able to adapt, to accept things in different order and length than we’re used to. We are in a very, very exciting time.
~ Nic Refn to Jen Yamato

DEADLINE: You mention Tarantino, who with Christopher Nolan and a few other giants, saved film stock from extinction. To him, showing a digital film in a theater is the equivalent of watching TV in public. Make an argument for why digital is a good film making canvas.
REFN: Costwise, it’s a very effective way for young people to start making movies. You can make your movie on an iPhone. It’s wonderful seeing how my own children use technology to enhance creativity. For me it’s a wonderful canvas. Sure, I love grain in film. I love celluloid. But I also like creativity. I like crayons, I like pencils, I like paint. It’s all relative. Technology is more inclusive. A hundred years ago when film was invented, it was an elitist club. Very few people got to make it, very few people controlled it and very few people owned it. A hundred years later, storytelling through images is everyone’s domain. It’s ultimate capitalism. There are no rules, and no barriers and no Hays Code. Where does this go in another hundred years? I don’t know but I would love to see it.
~ Nic Refn To Jen Yamato