Devotional Films Reviews

Celeste and Jesse Forever: Loneliness and Laughter

From March 22, 2013

Two nights ago, I saw the best movie I’ve seen since Beginners. I realize what a huge statement that is for me to make, but I really think it’s true.

The funny part is, it kind of happened by accident.

I was at Redbox with a couple friends of mine, and as we stood there, contemplating The Perks of Being a Wallflower, they piled in the car and drove off. Unphased, I removed Perks from the cart and snatched the first film I saw on the screen, which happened to be Celeste and Jesse Forever. I was hoping to trick them into watching an obscure indie flick for driving off without me, but little did I know that it would be the best movie I’ve seen in a good year or so. They looped back around a few minutes later, and the disc was tucked inside my pants. I told them that now they had to wait and see what movie I had selected, and it was their own fault for leaving me–an indie/weird film lover–by myself at the Redbox machine.

As the movie began, I soon realized that this really was a good movie, and I had stumbled upon a gem.

The story, as you may have gathered, centers around Celeste(the ravishing Rashida Jones), and Jesse(the funnyman Andy Samberg). As the opening credits roll across a series of pictures of their relationship, we see a couple that fell madly in love; had a ton of fun together, got engaged and married, but then began to fight. The story picks up there, with the married couple of six years, six months into their separation. However, rather than severing the lines of communication and friendship, the two have resolved to remain best friends and hang out all the time. Jesse is a struggling artist who lives in the studio behind Celeste’s house. She is a successful trend forecaster, constantly doing interviews and articles for television and print, working and seriously raking in the lettuce. The viewer gets the sense that this was a source of their division; his artistic passion and lack of constant work clashed with her left-brained success.

In spite of their differences, Celeste and Jesse really are best friends. Their friends critique them and repeatedly tell them “it’s weird to stay such good friends while you’re getting a divorce.” Without giving too much away, the film explores the dynamics of a change in relationship status, in this case, a divorce. Various twists and turns meet our protagonists in a realistic, yet poetic way. The acting is phenomenal, and their reactions to their high and low points are authentic and engaging. No sooner has Celeste made a breakthrough in work than Jesse is asking out the (ahem) loose fro-yo girl to make her jealous. Both characters reach their lowest point, and the best part is how the subtle quiet of the film draws the viewer in and forces us to empathize with what they are feeling.

Divorce is an ugly, tragic, and painful ordeal, and Celeste and Jesse Forever makes that very clear. The soundtrack by itself is incredible, and is perfectly paired with the beautifully shot visuals. I repeatedly (annoyingly, I’m sure) pointed out to my friends how amazed I was by the soundtrack, a sort of postmodern nod to silent film music by way of The Postal Service and Passion Pit.

Despite the heavy subject matter, and the emotional pain the characters undergo, I was laughing out loud the entire way through the film. Jones co-wrote the screenplay with Will McCormack, who also plays a weed-dealing friend of theirs. Both of them, as well as Samberg pull a lot of weight in today’s comedy world, and they surely did not disappoint here, not to mention the bonus of a metrosexual Elijah Wood as Celeste’s personal assistant. The writers seem to have full control of a light switch in the audience’s brain that pulls them from laughing out loud to holding back tears, and they smoothly flip that switch several times throughout the course of the plot.

The film is overflowing with an all-star up-and-coming cast (fans of any number of recent sub-Hollywood indie films [cough, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist-esque stuff] will certainly recognize a lot of faces), and it pays off. The result is a beautifully framed film full of rich humor and a quiet sense of solitude faced at various times by each of the major characters that
just
simply
works.
(Not to mention a KILLER soundtrack)

Now, with all of this being said, here are my two Christianese cents. The characters in the film are devastated and heartbroken at various times throughout the story. The implication is that, if they had just stuck with their marriage (a good moral), they would have been happy and satisfied forever (not as good a moral). As believers, we have this awesome hope that this life is not all there is. We believe there is more than what our lying eyes can perceive. Since there is no trace of this in CAJF, we see the characters trying to satisfy their longings with meager human measures instead.

I doff my cap once more to my most-blogged Bible verse, Ecclesiastes 3:11, which tells us that God “has set eternity on the hearts of men.” Nothing in this life will ever satisfy us, no matter how hard we try because we have this infinity-sized hole in our souls that’s meant for God. No marriage, girl, guy, sex, job, money, relationship, or drug will fill it. Celeste and Jesse’s problem was trying to put each other (or other flings) in the place of Jesus as their one true source of satisfaction. In that sense, then, the movie reveals a very hopeless and hollow look at our world, and especially of marriage. A marriage, not to mention a life that is not centered on Jesus will always falter and end in pain and emptiness. This film explored that, and the lasting effects we humans have on each other, especially in the case of having to move on from a failed marriage. It asks if two former lovers can remain friends, but leaves that question largely unanswered.

Do yourself a favor and see Celeste and Jesse Forever.

Do yourself a bigger favor and meditate on the truly eternal hope we have in Christ.

e

P.S. My good friend, Zac Crosby just informed me that he helped shoot all the Rhode Island wedding scenes. I checked, and sure enough, his name is in the credits! Now you HAVE to see it!

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