We knew Rashida Jones could play a romantic leading lady, but in Hollywood all those parts are taken by Katherine Heigl and Kate Hudson. So Jones had to write one for herself and do it indie style, and it was worth it. Her take (with co-writer Will McCormack and director Lee Toland Kriegar), is an insightful relationship drama with some well-earned laughs.
Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) seem like the perfect Hollywood rom-com couple. They have goofy inside jokes and passive-aggressively correct each other’s shortcomings. Then the film drops the bomb on us that they’re separated and divorcing. Celeste and Jesse just think they can still hang out and be best friends.
At first I worried that the movie was on their side, that it was trying to say people could stay friends if they fell out of love, if only society would stop judging them for it. I don’t agree with that. Most of the characters in the movie have an opinion on that, but I didn’t think the script itself judged them. Not to worry.
It’s clear Jesse still wants Celeste. He’s just waiting her out. When he comes over to help her build an Ikea cabinet one night (which would be cheesy comedy in a lesser movie), they sleep together again. The next morning Jesse is truly heartbroken when he realizes they’re really not getting back together. Samberg is extremely sympathetic in this role, not goofing it up. Later in the movie when he says “Can we just lie here a little bit,” it’s powerful.
Celeste is not very sympathetic. That is not something Hollywood is good at, and were it one of the typical rom-com stars she would just go overboard. Celeste is elitist, self-centered, judgmental and dismissive. She is a pop culture commentator, which is a cute job for a rom-com character to have, but it bleeds into her real life in unflattering ways. She blabs all about herself, she forgets her date’s name (blatantly, even after he reminds her) and goes more and more negative, hurling insults at Jesse and his new fiancé behind their back. She also delays the divorce papers, because how could Jesse be so impatient that he has to get remarried when it’s convenient for him?
Jones is unafraid to make her character self-destructive and unlikeable. The film is not coddling Celeste like she’s cute. She has outrageous moments like trash diving, but the film presents her and other characters as real people. I really like where they go with these relationships.
A somber tone helps ground the comedic moments and make it feel relatable, unlike the typical rom-com fantasy. Indie music helps with that too, and of course the handheld camera is shaking because they probably had to run and gun this thing. Those elements could be distractions in other films, but here they balance the more heightened elements so you can stay involved with the story.
Photo Credit: David Lanzenberg/Sony Pictures Classics