Rashida Jones Channels Real Heartbreak Into 'Celeste and Jesse Forever'
With real life experience at the core of her film, the writer/actress explores the loss of love.
"This is a very personal movie for the both of us," Rashida Jones explains, speaking on behalf of her real-life writing partner, co-star and best friend, Will McCormack. "We wrote it from what we knew, what we experienced individually, and what people around us were experiencing."
Writing and acting in Celeste and Jesse Forever, her new long-awaited dramedy, were trips down a haunted memory lane. Stung by a relationship gone awry, she teamed up with McCormack to pen what she calls the "boy-meets-girl story, but inverted," in which she plays Celeste, a well-adjusted -- if slightly control freak -- woman who is in the midst of a more-than-amicable divorce from her slacker-dreamer husband Jesse, played by former SNL star Andy Samberg.
The pair seek to stay friends, and even continue living with each other after the split, in an effort to defy the customs and logic of the crumbling of a marriage.
"We felt like there was this real kind of thing in the zeitgeist with our friends, where they were having these relationships, where they were their first adult relationships, out of high school or college relationships, and it feels like the person you’re going to be with forever," she says. "And, it turns out it’s not forever, and you change and grow, and you don’t realize you’re going to change and grow. And you don’t want to lose the person who you feel really is integral to your identity, so you try to sidestep, outfox the inevitable pain of separation, and just dive right into friendship, and this is a cautionary tale about how it doesn’t work out."
There is no meet-cute between Celeste and Jesse in this film, no courting or dating or proposal or wedding for the pair. The story starts right in the middle of their separation, a legal arrangement whose real-life consequences have yet to be felt.
It's Jesse, surprisingly, that falls more quickly into a new relationship, sending Celeste into denial, and then a tailspin -- and the film's main emotional arc.
"The first, biggest adult lesson that you learn, is that you kind of have to be cool with yourself, and that loving somebody is sometimes the thing that can set you off on a different path," Jones says. "You’ll never forget loving them, you’ll never forget the impact they’ll have on your life, but just because you love someone doesn’t mean that you’re meant to be with them."
This lesson, in particular, comes directly from her personal experience.
"I think anybody who has had a long relationship and has had a really hard time letting go, wants to feel like it’s not all for naught, and it’s meaningful, because it makes you who you are," she reasons. "My first love, I’ll never forget, and it’s such a big part of who I am, and in so many ways, we could never be together, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not forever. Because it is forever."
Adds McCormack, who plays a lovable dunce pot dealer named Skillz in the film, "I have a sister who had a boyfriend forever, and they were so in love, and I was little, I was young, and they finally broke up and I was devastated, I said, ‘why’d you break up, why’d you break up? You love each other so much.’
"And she said, ‘Sometimes love is not enough.’ And it was such a cruel lesson," he continues. "And you learn that sometimes love is not enough. It comes down to timing, people grow at different times, and that’s a hard lesson in life."
Celeste and Jesse is far from simply a film about a crushing sense of loss and trip into emotional wilderness; existential crises are only effective because of the pair's cute inside jokes (which include masturbating baby carrots) and obvious affection. Even the depressing moments are punctured by humor, with bouts of stoned crying, drunk partying and witty interplay a constant. While Jones and McCormack borrowed from their own separate experiences for the heartbreak, it was their long history as best friends that provided the basis for comedy.
"Celeste and Jesse is definitely our friendship, we do all those little stupid things that they do in the movie," McCormack laughed, "and then from the sort of break up part of the movie, I think we had both been in sort of dysfunctional, complicated loving but sort of vaguely defined relationships with people, and it felt like a good premise for a film."
It also turned out to be, ultimately, a relieving one.
"I think in order to be in any way good or real, you have to bring your own thing to it," Jones adds. "And, in the writing of this movie, I was for sure processing some pain. And in the filming of this movie, I was processing some stuff, too. It is like a totally selfish pursuit in some ways, acting, because you get this enormous overblown cathartic experience, and you get to go through it and come out the other side with a little bit more understanding of yourself. So, it’s kind of a lucky thing to have."