Editor’s note: Critical Consensus is a biweekly feature in which two critics from Indiewire’s Criticwire network discuss new releases with Indiewire’s chief film critic, Eric Kohn. Here, The Wrap critic Alonso Duralde joins his husband, Movies.com contributor Dave White, to discuss “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” which opens this Friday. The couple also co-host a podcast, which you can find here.
Alonso, in your review of the movie for The Wrap, you predicted that the eventual buyer would take it back to the editing room to clean up the final act. Did it seem like any of that happened when you watched it again recently?
ALONSO DURALDE: I think that was just wishful thinking on my part (laughs). Apparently, they changed a few music cues but apart from that the version that you see now is the version that they showed in our sitting. I thought they could maybe tighten up the second half, but they did not.They ignored my sage advice (laughs).
You said the second half was “whiney and sluggish.” Would you still describe it in those terms?
DURALDE: It is. When divorcing couple Celeste and Jesse (played by Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg) are getting along and you see the rapport that they have created as a longtime couple, it feels real. That’s not something you get in a lot of movies. And that’s an avenue where I think they really excel. Once they break apart and they start trying to figure out what they’re going to do with their lives, that’s when it starts feeling familiar. It feels like a lot of movies that we’ve been seeing about people in their late 20s or early 30s figuring out, “Oh! I guess I’m an adult now! What does that mean? And how do I change my life?” And that feels more stale, whiney and less fresh than the other stuff. There’s a missed opportunity where these two have such a unique chemistry that could’ve gone somewhere interesting, and instead it goes some place very familiar.
WHITE: “Whiney” is not what I would call that second half. You’re right in that it does become a more conventional film. Unfortunately, because they’re apart for a lot of the second half, you don’t get that rapport. In order to make comedy happen, they put Rashida Jones’ character, Celeste, through kind of a ringer, which I found strange. It’s not the humiliation that you’ll see in a Katherine Heigel romantic comedy, but I found it odd that Jones co-wrote the film and her character has to suffer through wacky dating misadventures. The guy who’s dry humping her on the couch at the end of a date — that was weird. In moments like that, the film has checked out of reality. This person doesn’t seem like the kind of woman who would act ridiculously — who would go on 14-mile runs because she’s gone a little crazy. She would breakdown in some way, as both of their characters are suffering that separation anxiety, but I felt the forced nature of her romantic problems in the middle half with new guys were sort of strange. It didn’t ring true like the beginning and the end really do. If they had maintained that level of communication while having their own troubles separating in growth spurts, it would’ve made it a stronger, more realistic film.
But it’s shot in a way I really like. It’s shot in this very naturalistic way, and you get the feeling that they are going to go for that the entire film instead of the middle bit turning it into hijinks.
It’s interesting that you raised the issue of the movie’s credibility, because one of the things that it tries to get you to accept from a very early point is that this entire situation really could happen — that a couple could get divorced and try to still be friends in the immediate aftermath. So I wonder what you guys make of the chemistry between Jones and Andy Samberg — that is, the idea that they’re getting divorced but still living together as friends.
WHITE: She says this doesn’t she? In the early part of the film, she says, “if we were gay, this wouldn’t be an issue.”
DURALDE: She does. To Elijah Wood’s character.
WHITE: That’s a really interesting line because that’s actually the case a lot. I mean, we’re speaking to you as a gay male couple who have been together for almost 17 years, and obviously if Alonso dumped me I would have him murdered, but, in general, my experience has been that I see gay and lesbian couples much more quickly finding that friendship again after their relationship is over.
DURALDE: But not always. Some of them are always contentious. The movie knows that a lot of this has to do with the conversation that they aren’t ready to have or aren’t willing to have. That’s why, almost immediately, we get the scene with the two friends who are like, “I can’t do this anymore. You guys are freaking me out.” And they’re right, this isn’t natural; it’s a product of denial. They know they have to break up, but they aren’t ready to cut the cord yet. So they have to continue to do their inside jokes and wacky rapport and drive each other around and all that stuff while at the same time needling each other. And it’s because there’s the elephant in the room that is the giant conversation they haven’t had yet. Which is, “We are divorcing and we are going see other people and move on with our lives.” The movie acknowledges that it’s not natural.
Next: What has happened to the romantic comedy?
Are there other movies that it brought to mind that deal with a similar situation?
WHITE: We’re going to go see “Two for the Road” tonight! (laughs)
DURALDE: One of our favorites. As a portrait of a longstanding relationship, “Two for the Road” definitely comes to mind. It’s very much, I think, of a piece of a lot of the Judd Apatow movies, which are basically coming of age films for people who should have come of age 10 years earlier. I think one could very easily slip it into that genre. I’m trying to think of other movies with couples where they have a sort of a language between them. I was reminded occasionally of Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks in “Broadcast News.” They never become a romantic couple but they do have a sort of short hand. And actually the Rashida Jones character here goes through a lot of the same stuff the Holly Hunter character does in that she’s so type-A, always has to be right and on top of things. There’s a downside to that and what it can do to your personal life.
Let’s talk about how “Celeste and Jesse” fits into the history of the romantic comedy. The genre has been popular since the early talkes. But when Preston Sturges went away, the genre didn’t — it just evolved into something else. The desire to see these kinds of situations would seem to exist on some primal level. Do either of you think that this is a genre that’s still in pretty good shape or is “Celeste and Jesse” an anomaly in that you can find some redeeming qualities about it.
DURALDE: The romantic comedy isn’t going anywhere.
WHITE: It’s spinning it’s wheels, though.
DURALDE: Yeah, I think more often than not these are movies about people meeting and falling in love, and it’s less often that you see a movie about what happens 15 years after that. I think there’s a smaller category of movies like this where it’s like, “Let’s examine a relationship that’s been going on.” It’s not about that first flush of heat and the explosions or whatever. It’s about, “We’ve settled in. We have a mortgage. Now what?” You mentioned Sturges, and another great movie about a long time couple breaking up is his “The Palm Beach Story.” They’re not exactly the same but I think this kind of fits into that mold of this couple that you hope will work it out and they have all this shared history but at the same time they have these things they have to work through. Maybe they’ll fix it, maybe they won’t. I think it would fall in place with that one as well.
Rashida Jones has a writing credit here. Obviously, she has a lot invested in this movie. Do you read this as a bid to be taken more seriously? She has fans, she has exposure, and she comes from a famous family, but most of what she is associated with is comedy in a way that I think may have limited the kind of audience that she’s had. This one being closer to one might call a dramedy or something along those lines, it stands out from the other stuff.
WHITE: It definitely does. If we’re going to break this down as a career strategy, it’s definitely outside of what we’ve seen her do before. She’s on “Parks and Rec” and that’s straight comedy. And the other films she’s been in have been all full-on comedies. I think that this is in equal measures dramatic and comedic and since she is at least one of the creators of it, it’s good for her in the long run. It’ll definitely push her out of the box she’s in right now.
DURALDE: I think, generally speaking, when actors write for themselves they are writing the role that they want to play that no one else is offering them. So it’s sort of like, “I want to do this script and no one has written this script, so I’m going to write this script.” So I think certainly it’s a smart move. And I’m sure lots of actors have written stuff that never leaves an agent’s drawer, so maybe for her to have gotten this far is a testament to her perseverance.
WHITE: And now there’s a good precedent for it as well: Look at “Bridesmaids.” People think of that as straightforward comedy, but if you really go back and rematch “Bridesmaids,” there’s so much sadness and so much anxiety in the movie and it’s all from the Kristen Wiig character. That what you have to remember about that film — that one of the reasons you feel for that woman so much is because she’s having the worst time, not just because all these bad things are happening to her, but because her life isn’t working. There’s a very real sense of anxiety and fear and melancholy underneath the people pooping in the sinks. More of this please! (laughs) More unconventional stuff.