Amy Poehler and the rest of the Parks and Recreation gang are returning on September 20th for a fifth season (22 episodes) and they’re teasing the highly-anticipated premiere with spots poking fun at the Olympics. Well, mind you the Olympics are over now, but still, they’re funny, plus one features Andy (cutie Chris Pratt) half-naked and covered in shaving cream, so there’s that! (H/T The A.V. Club)
Over the past few years, deconstructing the romantic comedy has become somewhat of a standard practice amongst art house films. Movies like 500 Days of Summer and The Romantics have redirected the focus of the genre to ask what happens if the fairy tale was an illusion? What happens if after the couple inevitably ends up together, they don’t live happily ever after?
The latest entry to join this batch of films is Celeste and Jesse Forever. An official selection from this year’s Sundance and Los Angeles Film Festivals, the movie is directed by Lee Krieger (The Vicious Kind) and serves as the screenwriting debut from comedienne Rashida Jones (Parks & Recreation, The Office) and her writing partner, Will McCormack. And in addition to writing the film’s uniquely clever and charming script, real-life best friends Jones and McCormack tackled triple duty by also acting in and executive producing this labor of love.
“The minute I came to set, I wanted to not be in writer mode because I respect and trust Lee implicitly,” Jones told me during an interview earlier this week at New York’s Loews Regency Hotel. “He’s really, really good at his job and his job is to tell me what to do, so I wanted to just be there for him as an actress. I didn’t want to deal with anything business-oriented or writer-oriented.”
“I’ll second that,” continued Krieger. “Rashida was great about coming to set and not trying to multitask between takes. It’s a tiny movie, which is kind of an all-hands-on-deck experience. We needed her to just act because it’s such an enormous responsibility to not only carry that part but to carry the movie with that kind of part. It’s a total tour-de-force performance that Rashida gives and I don’t think she could have done it if she were trying to juggle a million things. It was kind of interesting to see how she could just flip a switch and would show up having produced the day before and all of a sudden just be in actor’s mode. It’s the reason the performance is as amazing as it is. She was totally focused on the role.”
Opening in select theaters today, Celeste and Jesse Forever tells the story of a pair of best friends who got married at a young age, only to realize six years later that they’re better suited to be in one another’s lives in a purely non-romantic way. The film opens as Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg) are already in the midst of divorce, yet they maintain that they’re still the closest of friends. They hang out everyday, share property, and even gossip about rediscovering their dating lives.
But as their mutual friends not so subtly point out, Celeste and Jesse’s relationship is a little “weird.” How does a couple go immediately from a divorce to being platonic BFFs? For the two of them, their desire to make this transition as painless and natural as possible makes them deny the complications associated with such a sharp relationship shift. Yet inevitably, these things are never as easy as they seem.
After being rejected the morning following a night of drunken sex, Jesse gives up on the idea that him and Celeste still have a chance of getting back together. The timing of this realization couldn’t be more ideal, as he quickly thereafter learns that a one-night stand he had shortly after their divorce is now pregnant.
With emotions running high, Jesse begins to pursue building a new life with the mother of his unborn child. Meanwhile, Celeste starts to second-guess her feelings towards her ex. Now that there is such a finite obstacle in the way of them ending up together, can she really handle just being his friend? Or does she regret not fighting harder for their marriage to work? Thus, the fragile hilarity and chaos of the film ensues.
“I was really wanting to play a dynamic, complicated character,” Jones said of the flawed and often-hypocritical Celeste. “I think I’ve played a lot of nice, sweet, friendly, affable, sturdy, pragmatic characters. We struggled a little bit at the beginning of writing with how unlikable to make her because at some point we wanted people to go along with the ride. But we definitely wanted her to come off hypocritical and judgmental and myopic because it gives her someplace to go. The idea that it takes so much to change yourself a little was important to us but it’s easier to do when you start somebody at a place where they have a lot of flaws that they’re not necessarily conscious of.”
“I have to say, in the wrong hands, Celeste could be really unlikable,” added McCormick. “I think Rashida’s performance does a great job of balancing a performance that’s tricky.”
Featuring an all-star supporting cast that boasts such names as Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts, Chris Messina, Eric Christian Olsen and Ari Graynor, Celeste and Jesse Forever tactfully protests When Harry Met Sally’s thesis that men and women can never be just friends. In this endearing film, that idea is not only challenged, but it’s tested through an Olympic-size obstacle course that includes every curveball life can throw at its protagonists.
As the film progresses, Celeste and Jesse learn that despite whatever variables may contest their relationship, they’ll forever turn to one another. Their connection is so deeply rooted that they’ll always be in one another’s lives in some capacity – even in ways that may seem unrecognizable or foreign at first. But most importantly, they learn that sometimes to love someone is much more powerful than to be in love with someone.
In Our Idiot Brother, Paul Rudd plays Ned, who is just that: an idiot. After going to jail for dealing marijuana to a uniformed cop, he is dumped by his girlfriend and has to figure out his life. The movie follows Ned as he crashes through each of his sisters’ lives like a hurricane, leaving collateral damage every stop along the way.
The big frustration with Our Idiot Brother is how it never meets its serious potential. Its indie cred is unmatched: in addition to showing at Sundance, it also features alt-goddess Zooey Deschanel (if you have not seen the YouTube spoof series The Zooey Deschanel Show then you should go pray I don’t find you!), Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Hugh Dancy, and Rashida Jones. Second, it fills the light indie end-of-summer comedy void (see: 500 Days of Summer). Third, the marketing has been intelligent and impeccable (see: the Funny or Die sketch). Fourth, is there a woman or gay the world over who doesn’t want to simultaneously snuggle Paul Rudd and tie him up? I know it’s not just me!
Unfortunately, the movie never delivers on its initial promise. Sure, it packs a handful of laugh-out-loud moments, but it never lifts off — even if it wraps up on a very sweet note, leaving me feeling warm but ultimately unfulfilled. The quips come fast and clever, but they’re always easy jabs at the kind of fashionable, over-educated city-dwellers who name their kids “River” and “Echo” and perform bad stand-up comedy in Marc by Marc Jacobs frocks — like a Stuff White People Like blurb set to film. Worst of all, Elizabeth Banks sports the most heinous weave - I just wanted someone to snatch it the whole time. I attribute the underwhelming effect to the fact that neither the director nor the writers have much experience. The last “film” directed by Jesse Peretz was The Ex in 2006 starring Jason Biggs, Amanda Peet and … yeah, you get it. The last thing written by David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz was … nothing. The cast is wasted and dragged through a slow, could-have-been-better failure to launch. More aptly put, we had the nicest butter and Paula Deen was not there to deep fry it.
If I saw you outside the theater, to quote my good (I wish) friend (she’s not real) Brenda Meeks (from Scary Movie), I would tell you, “Don’t go in there!” But if you insist on going in, adjust your expectations: Our Idiot Brother is a little too self-satisfied and poorly constructed for its own good.