Hollywood makes enough movies that there are always a few that you don’t hear about until they are on DVD. Sometimes they are simply horrible films that end their theater run quickly, but often they are “diamonds in the rough” that made their mark at film festivals.
These movies often appear in our DVD catalog along with the blockbusters and sound intriguing. If the independent reviews are good, the library might take a chance on purchasing it.
I just came across one of those films. “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is an independent film that did well at the Sundance Film Festival. I had never heard of it, or any of the actors in it. It was promoted as a light, romantic comedy dealing with the difficulty of marriage. The reviews made it worth ordering, and I decided to have a look myself.
The premise involves a couple of high school sweethearts who marry young and face marital issues by the time they turn 30. Celeste is successful in her profession while Jesse is unemployed and twiddling his thumbs. She thinks divorce will provide freedom from the stress of living together, but allow them to remain friends. He reluctantly agrees.
The premise is a bit misleading in that it isn’t a time-warp movie but one that starts with them technically separated, divorce at-hand and still spending a lot of time together. Their courtship, wedding and marriage are covered during the opening credits. In fact, you don’t realize that they are already separated until they’re out with friends for dinner and their friends go ballistic about how they’re always together when they’re getting divorced.
The film takes a lot of patience because at first I thought it was just a matter of time before I hit the “stop” button. The early scenes are overplayed and the F-bomb used more often than necessary. Instead of being a tender comedy “Celeste and Jesse Forever” looked like it might be a worthless slapstick with no redeeming value. I hung in there because I couldn’t believe the reviews could be that unreliable.
The goofiness soon passes and real life issues come to the forefront in their relationship. Without realizing it, Celeste takes Jesse for granted, being in a situation where she can’t deal with him as a husband but assuming he’ll always be a close friend without being attached to someone else. There’s no reason for her to think differently because he is hung up on her and has no desire to start dating again.
However, because of her aloofness he forces himself to start seeing other women. His heart’s not in it, but one woman, who he fortunately happens to like, ends up getting pregnant. That changes everything. Jesse is torn because he’s still in love in Celeste but wants to make the new relationship work. An added twist is that he always wanted kids, something that Celeste was ambivalent about.
Celeste is shocked when Jesse tells her. In the blink of an eye she suddenly realizes she might lose him forever and doesn’t know how to handle it. She thought she had the best of both worlds when she didn’t have to handle his lack of ambition but would always have him there. She recognizes that she’s still very much in love and can’t imagine the thought of losing him.
Whatever comedy was in the movie is gone after that. It becomes a serious story about how two people deal with true-life issues when reality sets in. There’s a lot of frustration, sorrow and anger as their lives are turned upside down. What do you do when you pursue a simple but, albeit, unusual solution to a “failed” marriage and suddenly have it blow up in your face?
There’s no silliness in how the movie winds its way to its conclusion. These are two people who have to deal with a difficult situation when their relationship takes an unexpected turn. As the movie progresses the scenes stop being overplayed and the dialog settles down.
“Celeste and Jesse Forever” packs an emotional wallop and makes you appreciate what you have in life. It’s definitely a journey worth experiencing.
David Kent is the director of the Village Library of Cooperstown. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.