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Love and Let Go

5 Feb, 2013 By: Ashley Ratcliff

Rashida Jones co-wrote, produced and stars in atypical rom-com ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’

Every now and then a film comes along and offers a refreshing take on the conventions of a genre. For romantic comedy, that would be Celeste and Jesse Forever, due on home video Feb. 5 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

From the outside looking in, Celeste (Rashida Jones, “Parks and Recreation,” “The Office”) and Jesse (Andy Samberg, “Saturday Night Live”) were made for each other, with their annoying hand gestures and inside jokes. But the truth is they’ve grown apart. Celeste is a driven author-trend forecaster for a burgeoning media company, and Jesse is an unmotivated, jobless artist. The thirtysomethings decide to divorce and try to remain best friends while dating other people.

Celeste and Jesse presented an opportunity for Jones to carry a film in the lead role, produce and co-write with writing partner — and short-lived former flame — Will McCormack, who also plays dependable friend and weed guy Skillz. Jones said she probably wouldn’t have been cast in the part had she not written it for herself.

“I thought that I could play this slightly unlikeable, Type-A character that I really hadn’t had the chance to play,” she said. “I generally play the supportive, sounding board, best friend-girlfriend-wife character. And that is one facet of my personality, but I also have a little more of this alpha personality as well — opinionated, slightly imperious character. In some ways by playing to my strengths … is we magnified my weaknesses.”

“The actual shooting of the film was the best part of the process,” she added. “… We had this really nice, kind of protected, really creative environment while we were filming, and I just stopped being the writer and a producer, and I just acted. And that was really great for me.”

While selling the script presented its share of trials, McCormack and Jones knew a few things were non-negotiable when writing the screenplay: Jones would play Celeste and the film wouldn’t have a predictable, neatly packaged “rom-com” happy ending.

“This was always a movie about a break-up and the various painful steps it takes to actually let go of somebody,” she said. “The ending was always written. … I know it was like a bummer for some people, but we wanted to take you, hopefully, on this ride and feel surprised and root for these people, but then ultimately realize that this is a story about letting go of your first adult relationship, your first love, the person who really defines you. The reason it’s called Celeste and Jesse Forever is because that love will last forever — their relationship may not but, they are who they are because of that.”

Celeste and Jesse is very much in the same vein as romantic comedies like Annie Hall, Broadcast News and When Harry Met Sally — which Jones counts as some of her favorites, ones that shaped her understanding of the genre and were “emotionally intelligent.”

“You were laughing and crying, and you left with a real point of view on relationships,” she said. “It wasn’t just ‘a girl meets a guy and her life is perfect, except that she’s not with a guy and therefore her life’s not perfect, and then she finds a guy and then her life’s perfect.’ I mean, that’s basically every rom-com now. I don’t like those movies. I don’t feel that they reflect my real life. I think that what was so great about [Annie Hall, Broadcast News and When Harry Met Sally] was they really asked these questions that felt modern.”

Ultimately, Celeste and Jesse raises thought-provoking questions like, Can you successfully maintain a friendship with someone you once loved romantically? And is it more important to be right or to be happy?

Bonus material includes a making-of featurette, a red carpet premiere highlight video, a Q&A, deleted scenes and two commentaries: one with Jones, McCormack and director Lee Toland Krieger, and one with her co-star Samberg. The latter is rife with hysterical banter between the old friends.

“It’s so dumb,” Jones laughed. “I haven’t heard it yet but I was like, ‘What are we doing? What’s happening?’ We were in a studio. We had no guidelines. … Actually, we hadn’t seen each other for a while, and I just let Andy set the tone, which is goofy, obviously.”

Celeste and Jesse Forever co-stars Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts and Chris Messina. It is listed at $35.99 on Blu-ray Disc and $30.99 on DVD.

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