Lessons in the art of de­cou­pling

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Evan Wil­liams

Lim­ited re­lease

Lim­ited re­lease

C(MA15+) ★★★

(M) ★★★✩✩

✩ ELESTE and Jesse For­ever is what is now known as an anti-ro­man­tic com­edy. The la­bel doesn’t sig­nify an ab­sence of ro­mance. It means the story has dark patches, of­ten un­ex­pected; that sor­row and dis­ap­point­ment lurk around ev­ery cor­ner; that happy end­ings can’t be guar­an­teed. Rather like real life, you might say.

In the anti-ro­man­tic com­edy, the con­ven­tions of the stan­dard Hol­ly­wood rom-com are sub­verted. A favourite theme is the way sud­den ob­sta­cles can block the path to true love. Cou­ples who seem made for each other never quite hit it off. Some­thing al­ways seems to go wrong.

A gen­er­a­tion ago this was a fa­mil­iar prob­lem for Cary Grant and Katharine Hep­burn; then, we called it screw­ball com­edy.

Di­rected by Lee Toland Krieger, Ce­leste and Jesse For­ever poses the ques­tion: can a di­vorc­ing cou­ple still be best friends? Can they con­tinue to see each other, live in ad­join­ing rooms, go out to­gether and con­tinue to be­have like a nor­mal mar­ried cou­ple (ex­cept in one im­por­tant re­spect)?

Re­cent anti-ro­man­tic come­dies have ex­plored sim­i­lar dilem­mas. Can a lov­ing cou­ple sur­vive the con­stant post­pone­ment of mar­riage with­out stray­ing from the paths of right­eous­ness? ( The Five-Year En­gage­ment.) Can best friends en­joy reg­u­lar sex with­out form­ing bind­ing or lov­ing com­mit­ments? ( Friends with Ben­e­fits.) Can an en­gaged man have sex with his fi­ancee’s sis­ter with­out spoil­ing things? ( My Sis­ter’s Sis­ter.) Can teenage girls in Amer­i­can high schools form a lov­ing re­la­tion­ship with a vam­pire? ( Twi­light and var­i­ous se­quels.) On sec­ond thoughts, for­get that last one.

In my lim­ited ex­pe­ri­ence, di­vorc­ing cou­ples pre­fer to see as lit­tle of each other as pos­si­ble. But let’s as­sume that Ce­leste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Sam­berg) want to stay best friends. Not only that, they are de­ter­mined to flaunt the fact, to carry on as if noth­ing has hap­pened, in a way that gives of­fence to their friends. Ce­leste’s friend Beth (Ari Graynor) finds their be­hav­iour pos­i­tively weird. So what con­clu­sions can be drawn from it? That Ce­leste and Jesse are still in love deep down? That each is still on the look­out for some­one else and ready to date an­other per­son even if the other re­sents it and pre­tends not to care? That the in­evitable will some­times hap­pen — that af­ter a night out or a boozy din­ner or a bun­gled at­tempt on Jesse’s part to as­sem­ble an Ikea cup­board the two will fin­ish up in bed to­gether, ten­derly re­vis­it­ing old mem­o­ries? I leave you to guess.

But I shouldn’t sug­gest that Ce­leste and Jesse For­ever has a pre­dictable story-line. It’s full of sur­prises and the screen­play, writ­ten by Jones and Will McCor­mack, crack­les with smart lines, usu­ally de­liv­ered at break­neck speed. But be­neath the fun and games are con­stant hints of sad­ness. This, af­ter all, is a film about the sub­tle ways love be­gins to sicken and de­cay, even when both part­ners still care for each other. Yet so much of it is funny — the awk­ward en­coun­ters, the em­bar­rass­ing coverups, the way the characters re­as­sure them- selves in the face of jeal­ousy or anger or re­gret.

‘‘ That’s great,’’ says Ce­leste, when Jesse an­nounces he’s dat­ing some­one, ‘‘ Good move, I’m proud of you.’’ Or: ‘‘ I’m to­tally fine.’’

At least Ce­leste has a full-time work­load to dis­tract her. Her PR firm spe­cialises in trend fore­cast­ing and, when things are fall­ing apart with Jesse, she lands a lu­cra­tive con­tract pro­mot­ing the ca­reer of a teenage pop idol, Ri­ley (Emma Roberts). The seem­ingly vac­u­ous and in­suf­fer­able Ri­ley turns out to have her own ro­man­tic prob­lems, and the scenes in which she seeks com­fort from Ce­leste are es­pe­cially touch­ing. Jesse’s ca­reer as an artist, gen­er­ally in the dol­drums, also takes a turn for bet­ter. His art­work for a Ri­ley poster scores a hit un­til some­one dis­cov­ers what look like stylised gen­i­talia in the de­sign and the me­dia makes a story of it.

Mean­while, new part­ners come and go. For Ce­leste, there’s hot young model Ru­pert (Rafi Gavron) — no thanks — and Max (Rich Som­mer), who turns her down. She meets Paul (Chris Messina) at yoga class and things looks promis­ing, but Ce­leste is the one to break it off. Jesse finds in­stant rap­port with Veron­ica

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