Who better to write a movie about two best friends than, well, two best friends? After all, no one knows the ins and your outs, ups and your downs of the dynamic quite like they do. So, it made sense for Will McCormack and his best friend of 13 years, Rashida Jones, to team up and write Celeste and Jesse Forever, a deeply personal indie romantic dramedy about friends and the trials and tribulations about love and heartache in your thirties. As McCormack explained to Hollywood.com during an interview, on why they made this movie in particular. "All we do is talk about relationships and love and heartbreak, we decided we need to write a movie [about it]."
As much as the titular Celeste (played by Jones herself) and Jesse (an against-type Andy Samberg) mirror their real-life connection ("We know each other so well, we finish each others sentences, we're like brother and sister," McCormack says fondly of his writing partner) the on-screen duo's story is a much more complicated one. As Jones explained during an interview on The Daily Show, she and McCormack very briefly dated and amicably decided on friendship, but in the film, Celeste and Jesse are separated childhood sweethearts who are trying to navigate the tricky, complicated waters of love, loss, friendship, and heartache in your thirties.
While Celeste and Jesse try to cope and deal with drifting apart, the experience of writing the film, did the exact opposite for McCormack and Jones. "[Writing] Celeste and Jesse Forever was a pretty, sorry to be corny, enchanted experience," McCormack (pictured left, in a scene from the film) says, "It was a very bonding time. We both had a lot of fear about being professional screenwriters, so we were able to sort of hold each others hands and I think it was such a formative thing in our friendship. We really supported each other and were encouraging. It made us closer as friends."
It was an experience that was an important one on many levels for McCormack (who, like Jones comes from a Hollywood family, as his sister is actress Mary McCormack), perhaps best known for his work on the small screen on series such as Brothers & Sisters and In Plain Sight. "I wanted to be a writer my whole life and when I was little everyone thought I was going to be a writer. Then I went to college and started acting and I really loved it and writing just felt so hard and I felt scared showing people my writing," he admits, "Then I got older and I got sick of talking about it and it really happened organically.... Now I'm addicted and obsessed and can't stop, but it took forever." (In fact, McCormack's writing partnership with Jones went so smoothly, the two worked together again to write a pilot and a film based on a comic book she created called Frenemy of the State.)
Of course, it's one thing to write a movie with your best friend, it's another entirely to get it made and get the right people on board to make your labor of love a reality. McCormack, who has a supporting role in the film playing a stoner buddy named Skillz ("It's totally an L.A. person. I have two friends in LA whose names are Skills, but we added the 'z'. We took artistic liberty," he jokes), notes that Celeste and Jesse Forever, like so many indies, took some time to get off the ground. "It took four years to get the financing, but it was really worth it," McCormack says of Celeste and Jesse Forever, which after its long road, premiered at Sundance.
While eventually they got an impressive supporting cast on board (which includes Ari Graynor, Eljiah Wood, Emma Roberts, and Chris Messina) it was getting director Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind) on board as the puzzle piece that made the collaborative film come together. Krieger, who also separately spoke with Hollywood.com about his experience being at the helm of Celeste and Jesse Forever, says that it was a mutual trust between himself, McCormack, and Jones that made the movie work, despite certain things working against them on a small budget feature in Los Angeles. ("It was challenging — and I'm not trying to slam L.A. — in that the great irony is that L.A. is not the most film-friendly place," he explains.)
"I think part of it was daunting, certainly, taking on someone else's material, but also material that is from your lead actress," Krieger (pictured, right) who read the script back in 2010, admits. "But fortunately for us, we had a lot of time in pre-production for Rashida and Will and I to get to know each other and the good part for me was, they knew this story so well and so intimately that if we ever got into a jam when we were prepping it or shooting it, or even when we were cutting it, they'd have ideas on how to fix it or if I had missed something they were very quick to say, 'No we've gotta make sure this beat lands this way.' To have that sounding board in your corner all the time it was, for me, really beneficial and kind of spoiled me. There were certainly conversations about what's best for the movie, but generally speaking, they were so great in terms of handing over the reigns and really trusting me."
Part of what helped form the bond early on, not only as filmmakers, writers, and actors, but friends on this project Krieger explains, was the music. (Celeste and Jesse Forever is scored by Jones' nephew Sunny Levine and his musical partner Zach Cowie.) "Before we got started, Rashida, Will, and I would make each other mixes. We would end up getting together a few days later and saying, 'Oh, I love this song from the mix, but I don't know if this one's really right for the movie' so we started to really know one another through the mix process, he says. "Rashida, for obvious reasons coming from such a musical family, but Will, too. We really got to know each other and get on the same page for what the movie should really sound like. We were always determined, Rashida in particular, to make sure it didn't sound like another indie movie. We really wanted to give it, for lack of a better description, a soulful energy."
So with Krieger, Jones, and McCormack were all on the same page for the overall feel of their film ("I think Lee really understood the tone of the movie. The first time we met with him he was talking about When Harry Met Sally and Husbands and Wives and all these movies that we, of course, aspire to be like," McCormack says) but what about the other half of Celeste and Jesse Forever: Andy Samberg? The Saturday Night Live vet, who is also a longtime friend of Jones' ("They have sort of a built-in intimacy that we have as well," McCormack says of their relationship) seemed to surprise everyone by switching gears from comedy goofball to serious actor.
McCormack admits, "I was not sure [about Andy] and then he read it and I was like, 'Oh my god, he's amazing.' Because he's never done anything like this and he was confident. He read the script and was like, 'I got this' and we all knew he had that somewhere in him, but you never know until you see it." Krieger, who thinks Samberg could bounce between comedy and drama throughout his career in the vein of Robin Williams and Adam Sandler, says of his leading man, "He's just a guy who was so tailor-made for this part. Who else, physically, is better to play the 30-year-old man boy? But then you meet Andy and he's so sweet and there's this vulnerability that eminates from him all the time and this accesability and I think that was critical for Jesse."
In the film Jesse is, perhaps, the most vulnerable of the pair, or at least the one early on most expressive of their pain from their split. But whether people find themselves relating more to Jones' Celetse's stoic, stubborn nature or Samberg's Jesse's hangdog wearing-his-heartbreak-on-his-sleeve, the universal themes in the film seem to be touching a nerve. "For me, the worst [breakups] weren't the ugly ones where we were screaming at each other, but the ones where you just feel like your heart got crushed and there's nothing you can do about it," Krieger admits.
It's a sentiment that's been resonating with those who have seen the film, something of a bittersweet accomplishment for McCormack. "I've had people come up to me sobbing about their love life and it feels... sort of good? Because you're like, 'I know, I'm with you, it's really hard!' People come up to us and tell us, 'You wrote our story'....It is a traumatic thing, to think your life is going to go a certain way and then it doesn't. You're like, 'Oh shit, what do I do?' .... I think people who love it seem to appreciate that we were honest about heartache."
Celeste and Jesse Forever is currently playing in select theaters in New York City and Los Angeles.
[Photo credit: McCormack: David Lazenberg/Sony Pictures Classic; Krieger: WENN.com]
More: Celeste and Jesse Forever Review
Celeste and Jesse Forever Star Rashida Jones: From Best Friend to Leading Lady
Emma Roberts and More Join Celeste and Jesse Forever
After watching Celeste and Jesse Forever — a romantic dramedy which, at its core, is about hardships of friendship, love, and heartbreak — there's a good chance you'll be left with an overwhelming feeling of wanting to connect (or reconnect) with the people you love most in your life. In one of the many lessons you take away from the film, which chronicles the the ups and downs of a separation of the titular best friends Celeste and Jesse — played by Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg, respectfully — we learn that as we get older and the stakes get higher, relationships take a lot of nurturing if you want them to prevail. But by the end, you'll mostly wish that Jones, the star and co-writer of Celeste and Jesse Forever, was your friend in real life so that you could lament about the intricacies of matters of the heart with her.
"The best part of this whole thing has been the people," says Jones, who is just as easygoing in person as you'd imagined. "Even though [the story] is fictional … people are going through it and they feel like they can come up to us and talk about it. People get in deep with me, man. They talk about their divorces. There's been some tears, I've shared some tears with people. It's kinda great, though."
It's a feeling that fans of Jones have become familiar with over the past few years of her ever-evolving career. The actress — best known for her work on NBC's Parks and Recreation and on the big screen in supporting roles in Our Idiot Brother, The Muppets, and I Love You, Man — is strikingly beautiful, Harvard-educated, politically minded, and immensely talented. (C'mon, anyone that can keep keep it together during Paul Rudd's "slappin da bass" routine in I Love You, Man is game for just about anything.) On paper, she has all the makings of someone who should be intimidating. But, Jones, the veritable poster child of what it looks like to be a humble, hardworking product of Hollywood icons (the 36-year-old is the daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton), is anything but.
Though her character Celeste, a successful rough-around-the-edges woman, can be hard to love at times — especially in scenes where her flippancy all but breaks the heart of her sweet, but unmotivated, better half, Jesse (played to a tee by a particularly hangdog Samberg). Luckily, Jones approachable nature (how many people would put their embarrassing elementary school pictures on Twitter?) and her infinitely relatable movie for anyone that's endured heartache still makes her the Ann Perkins to your Leslie Knope.
While Celeste and Jesse Forever finally puts her in leading lady territory, the actress is perfectly content with still being seen as a best friend figure with fans. It's fitting, considering Jones co-wrote the film with her real-life best friend Will McCormack (who takes on a supporting role in the movie as Jesse's toker pal Skillz) and her longtime close friend with Samberg, who impressively takes his first dramatic turn, plays her on-screen love Jesse. ("We got to watch him grow on set, it was the craziest thing ever. He's never done anything like this before," Jones says of his transformation.)
Jones' and McCormack's tale of friends going through a divorce in their 30s may be fictitious (as she explained to Jon Stewart during a recent visit to The Daily Show, she and McCormack only dated briefly for a boozy, whirlwind three weeks in the '90s), but their shared experiences resonate on screen. Traces of Jones and McCormack's real-life bond can be found throughout the film. Even some of their inside jokes make the cut. In the film, Celeste and Jesse enjoy bits in which they speak in funny accents and, memorably, simulate jerking off via tiny vegetables or tubes of chapstick. "Will and I, as friends, have a lot of annoying little friendship things. We definitely do [the vegetable bit]. It's so immature. Those are the little things that bond you," Jones says, further noting, "But we tend to go for a bigger vegetable and just go for the tip."
Like When Harry Met Sally, the gold standard of romantic comedies that paved the way for all those that followed, Celeste and Jesse Forever will inevitably have people re-asking the question: "Can men and women be friends?" Especially as you approach the big 3-0... and especially when dating your best friend comes with consequences larger than an awkward morning-after chat. As Jones puts it, "In your 20s you date a lot of people who you would never be friends with because they're horrible people and then you learn. It's very tricky, it's murky, and there's no real answer is the problem. And we don't really answer it in the movie."
One matter of the heart that Celeste and Jesse does, however, acutely pinpoint is that no one, not even the best of friends, are impervious to the pain and complications that stem from heartbreak. When we meet Celeste and Jesse, they — much to the confusion of their friends — are mid-separation and carrying on as though nothing is wrong. (Jones and McCormack opted to skip out on the traditional rom-com meet-cute and instead, as Jones put it, "get into the nitty-gritty of the relationship.")
It's a naivety that eventually catches up to both of them. "It's your friend and you don't want to really fight with your friend," she says. "They do this thing where they try to bury the inevitable pain that comes with a divorce or separation. You can't outsmart the pain of a breakup, you have to go through it. They've had this certain level of respect for each other as friends, which is great but it does this thing where it disables you from really being able to speak your mind."
In what is perhaps the film's most revelatory, albeit tear-jerking moment, Jones' Celeste makes a speech at a mutual friends' wedding that speaks to that very sentiment. The emotionally draining moment proved to be a profound one for Jones off-camera as well. "I absolutely got to make peace with people in my own life in that speech," Jones confesses. "It was so funny — when we were shooting that wedding scene, we were in Rhode Island at the director [Lee Toland Krieger]'s parents house. It was so beautiful. All my friends were there. But weirdly I felt like Celeste. I felt totally isolated. You can create this thing and make a movie with your best friend and your friends come and then, at the end of the day, not to be too depressing, you're by yourself. You come in this world alone, you leave this world alone. And there's something about that condition you almost have to accept if you're going to have any relationship with anybody in this world and I really strongly felt that during that speech and standing outside the wedding tent looking in on this thing that I helped create, but I couldn't be a part of it. It was a really bittersweet moment for me."
Celeste and Jesse Forever may make you want to cry on Jones' shoulder (or vice versa) but there's still something to smile about: The actress and her Parks and Rec cast and crew-mates will be reuniting next week to begin filming Season 5. "I'm so excited [to get back]," Jones says. "Every time we go on hiatus we feel like it's Rumspringa and we go and f**k up and s**tty things happen and we get back together to just like, get back into work mode. We need the structure and the love and the family of each other to straighten back. I cannot wait to be back in trailer land with my homies. I seriously need my girls so badly right now."
And in true best girlfriend fashion, Jones gave kudos to her Emmy-nominated Parks and Rec leading lady Amy Poehler, putting it quite simply, "She's the jam." Our sentiments about Jones exactly.
Celeste and Jesse Forever opens in New York City and Los Angeles on Friday, August 3.
[Photo credit: David Lazenberg/Sony Pictures Classic]
Follow Aly on Twitter @AlySemigran
Celeste and Jesse Forever Review
Parks and Rec Star Rashida Jones' Geeky Yearbook Picture
Sundance 2012: Rashida Jones Brings Rom-Com Reality to Celeste and Jesse Forever
This review previously appeared as part of Hollywood.com's coverage of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
After adorable but limiting roles in The Office I Love You Man Our Idiot Brother and her biggest part to date Parks and Recreation actress Rashida Jones nabs her meatiest part to date courtesy of her own script.
Celeste and Jesse Forever the brainchild of Jones and writing partner Will McCormick is a romantic comedy that feels perfectly comfortable treading into honest poignant relationship moments. It's obvious Jones co-wrote the movie every beat tailor made to draw out her best qualities. Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg) are longtime friends a perfect pair who eventually tie the knot and live happily for six years… until their relationship ends in divorce. But even with their impending separation the two can't help but remain best buds. Their friends are critical of the continued companionship but the pair work together to get back in the dating game. The journey forces the former couple to confront the truths and regrets both have harbored since first meeting.
Celeste and Jesse skips the big gags and sappy confessions in favor of grounding its characters in honest (and often uneasy) scenarios. Jones' and McCormick's script captures the kookiness ingrained in long lasting friendships from inside jokes (Celeste and Jesse routinely play a game where they perform sex acts with random objects) to the strange customs of Los Angelenos. Quirk isn't easy to pull off but director Lee Toland Krieger keeps the action intimate and restrained allowing Jones Samberg and the handful of exceptional supporting actors (including Erik Christian Olsen Ari Graynor Elijah Wood and Emma Roberts) to riff and joke without ever going broad.
If the movie was simply a string of hushed comedic sketches Celeste and Jesse Forever would fall into the familiar territory of meandering mumblecore but Jones and Samberg elevate the material with a surprising knack for the dramatic. In one of the film's more emotionally frank moments Jesse delvers a confession that solidifies the couple's dissipating relationship. The normally-goofball Samberg reels it back allowing quiet expression take the stage. The film may not land every intentionally heavy moment with perfect grace but watching two actors play against their established personas gives Celeste and Jesse extra (and exciting) punch.
Celeste and Jesse Forever is evidence Rashida Jones can deliver both behind and in front of the screen. In the right hands her talents can be mined to create a performance both daring and sweet. Celeste and Jesse suggests those "right hands" may be her own.
The other day, we got a look at the list of competitors in the upcoming Sundance Film Festival. But we've also got ourselves a fair share of promising premieres, with a slew of stars and directors alike that we're sure to get excited over.
Some of the big names we'll be seeing at this year's Sundance include Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde and Jeremy Irons in The Words, Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Lay the Favorite, Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan and Adam Scott in Bachelorette, Julie Delpy and Chris Rock in the Delpy-directed 2 Days in New York, Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg and Elijah Wood in Celeste and Jesse Forever (co-written by Jones) and Josh Radnor, starring against Elizabeth Olsen, in Liberal Arts, which he wrote and directed.
2 Days in New York / France (Director: Julie Delpy, Screenwriters: Julie Delpy, Alexia Landeau) — Marion has broken up with Jack and now lives in New York with their child. A visit from her family, the different cultural background of her new boyfriend, her sister’s ex-boyfriend, and her upcoming photo exhibition make for an explosive mix. Cast: Julie Delpy, Chris Rock, Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Alex Nahon.
Arbitrage / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Nicholas Jarecki) — A hedge-fund magnate is in over his head, desperately trying to complete the sale of his trading empire before the depths of his fraud are revealed. An unexpected, bloody error forces him to turn to the most unlikely corner for help. Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta.
Bachelorette / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Leslye Headland) — Unresolved issues between four high school friends come roaring back to life when the least popular of them gets engaged to one of the most eligible bachelors in New York City and asks the others to be bridesmaids in her wedding. Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, James Marsden, Adam Scott, Kyle Bornheimer.
Celeste and Jesse Forever / U.S.A. (Director: Lee Toland Krieger, Screenwriters: Rashida Jones, Will McCormack) — Celeste and Jesse met in high school, married young, and at 30, decide to get divorced but remain best friends while pursuing other relationships. Cast: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Ari Graynor, Chris Messina, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts.
For A Good Time, Call... / U.S.A. (Director: Jamie Travis, Screenwriters: Katie Anne Naylon & Lauren Anne Miller) — Lauren and Katie move in together after a loss of a relationship and a loss of a rent controlled home, respectively. When Lauren learns what Katie does for a living the two enter into a wildly unconventional business venture. Cast: Ari Graynor, Lauren Anne Miller, Justin Long, Mark Webber, James Wolk.
GOATS / U.S.A. (Director: Christopher Neil, Screenwriter: Mark Jude Poirier) — Ellis leaves his unconventional desert home to attend the disciplined and structured Gates Academy. There, he re-connects with his estranged father and for the first time questions the family dynamics. Cast: David Duchovny, Vera Farmiga, Graham Phillips, Justin Kirk, Ty Burrell.
Lay The Favorite / U.S.A. (Director: Stephen Frears, Screenwriter: D.V. Devincintis) — An adventurous young woman gets involved with a group of geeky older men who have found a way to work the sportsbook system in Las Vegas to their advantage. Cast: Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rebecca Hall.
Liberal Arts / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Josh Radnor) — When 30-something Jesse is invited back to his alma mater, he falls for a 19-year-old college student and is faced with the powerful attraction that springs up between them. Cast: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, John Magaro, Elizabeth Reaser.
Price Check / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Michael Walker) — Pete is having trouble resolving a happy marriage and family life with rising debt and a job he hates. When his new boss pulls him into the maelstrom that is her life, money and opportunities come his way, but at what price? Cast: Parker Posey, Eric Mabius, Annie Parisse, Josh Pais, Cheyenne Jackson.
Red Hook Summer / U.S.A. (Director: Spike Lee, Screenwriters: James McBride, Spike Lee) — A young Atlanta boy spends his summer in Brooklyn with his grandfather, who he's never seen before. Cast: Clark Peters, Jules Brown, Toni Lysaith, James Ransone, Thomas Jefferson Byrd.
Robot and Frank / U.S.A. (Director: Jake Schreier, Screenwriter: Christopher Ford) — A curmudgeonly older dad’s grown kids install a robot as his caretaker. Cast: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler. SALT LAKE CITY GALA FILM
Shadow Dancer / United Kingdom (Director: James Marsh, Screenwriter: Tom Brady) — Widowed mother-turned-terrorist Colette McVeigh has high-ranking brothers in the IRA. When she’s arrested in an aborted bomb plot she must make hard choices, testing family loyalties. Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Aiden Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson, with Gillian Anderson and Clive Owen.
The Words / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal) — Aspiring writer Rory Jansen finds another man's haunting memories in a collection of lost stories and claims them as his own, propelling him to literary stardom. Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde with Zoe Saldana. CLOSING NIGHT FILM
13 Notes: Paul Simon's Graceland Journey / U.S.A. (Director: Joe Berlinger) — Paul Simon returns to South Africa to explore the incredible journey of his historic Graceland album, including the political backlash he sparked for allegedly breaking the UN cultural boycott of South Africa, designed to end Apartheid.
About Face / U.S.A. (Director: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders) — An exploration of beauty and aging through the stories of the original supermodels. Participants including Isabella Rossellini, Christie Brinkley, Beverly Johnson, Carmen Dell'Orefice, Paulina Porizkova, Jerry Hall and Christy Turlington weigh in on the fashion industry and how they reassess and redefine their own sense of beauty as their careers progress.
A Fierce Green Fire / U.S.A. (Director: Mark Kitchell) — A definitive history of one of the most important movements of the 20th century, A Fierce Green Fire chronicles the environmental movement’s fascinating evolution from the 1960s to the present.
Bones Brigade / U.S.A. (Director: Stacy Peralta) — When six teenage boys came together as a skateboarding team in the 1980s, they reinvented not only their chosen sport but themselves too – as they evolved from insecure outsiders to the most influential athletes in the field.
The D Word: Understanding Dyslexia / U.S.A. (Director: James Redford) — While following a Dyslexic high school senior struggling to achieve his dream of getting into a competitive college, The D Word exposes myths about Dyslexia and reveals cutting edge research to elucidate this widely misunderstood condition.
Ethel / U.S.A. (Director: Rory Kennedy) — This intimate, surprising portrait of Ethel Kennedy provides an insider's view of a political dynasty, including Ethel’s life with Robert F. Kennedy and the years following his death when she raised their eleven children on her own.
Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap / United Kingdom (Director: Ice-T, Co-Director: Andy Baybutt) — Through conversations with Rap’s most influential artists – among them Chuck D, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Eminem, MC Lyte, Mos Def, and Kanye West – Ice-T explores the roots and history of Rap and reveals the creative process behind this now dominant art form.
West of Memphis / U.S.A. (Director: Amy Berg) — Three teenage boys are incarcerated for the murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. 19 years later, new evidence calls into question the convictions and raises issues of judicial, prosecutorial and jury misconduct – showing that the first casualty of a corrupt justice system is the truth.
Brilliant! Sorry, I answered the question before I even had a chance to ask it, that’s how excited I am. What would you call a dramedy that stars Rashida Jones (who also wrote it) and Andy Samberg and will be directed by the guy that did The Vicious Kind? Again, brilliant!
However, it's really called Celeste and Jesse Forever, and Jones wrote it with Will McCormick. It follows Jones and Samberg as they undergo a divorce while trying to remain friends. Now if that isn’t a recipe for comedy, I don’t know what is. The really, really, really interesting part of this is that Jones has written a very dynamic female character for this script and that alone makes me pumped for the movie. In her own words:
“It’s hard to find female leads that are flawed and interesting and dynamic. We wanted to write something that was in the vein of Judd Apatow — you talk like you actually talk with your friends — but with ladies. I want to do that and not just be someone’s girlfriend or wife. I want to be the one to go on the journey.”
So what about Samberg? He hasn’t done serious roles since, well, ever but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. Don’t let me down Rusty.