Time for another batch of mini-reviews, with one film clearly standing out.
Celeste & Jesse Forever [dir. Lee Toland Krieger]
Rashida Jones is one of the most underrated female actresses working today, so I was pleased to see her in the spotlight as co-writer and star of this film. In this, she plays the role of Celeste, a “trend forecaster” who is in the middle of a divorce with her soon-to-be ex-husband, Jesse (Andy Samberg). However, this isn’t your conventional divorce — the two of them remain best friends and hang out with each other all the time. This frustrates their friends, who call their behavior inexplicably weird. As Celeste & Jesse pursue other people, their friendship is put to the test, as maybe their feelings for each other haven’t quite subsided.
While sharing elements of the romantic comedy genre, the film’s unique concept is enough to distance itself from other likeminded titles. Jones and Samberg have solid chemistry, though some of their character interactions are just plain awkward. One of their little quirks is to find a small, pseudo-phallic object (i.e. a lip balm container) and “masturbate” it together until it climaxes — yeah, it’s as unfunny as it sounds. When the film grows up, it’s at its best, but there are some rough patches along the way. The supporting cast includes a bunch of afterthoughts, including a bizarrely miscast Elijah Wood as Celeste’s gay co-worker. In the end, this isn’t a bad film, just a forgettable one, no matter how great it is to see Rashida Jones get a chance to shine. 6/10
Ruby Sparks [dir. Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris]
The idea of a writer’s character coming to life is full of possibilities. For Calvin (Paul Dano), he has crafted his dream girl, Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), who unexpectedly appears in his house one night. She provides a burst of inspiration for the struggling novelist, and he quickly finds out that everything he writes about her will happen in real life. This is a powerful ability to have, and in the wrong hands, this could spell disaster.
This dangerous idea is loosely touched on in Ruby Sparks, but when the film has a chance to go dark and move in an interesting new direction, it doesn’t. Instead, we are left with a vanilla romantic comedy that asks a little too much of its viewers in the final act. Dano and Kazan work well together — not surprising given their real-life relationship — and there is a good supporting cast to back them up (Elliott Gould, Steve Coogan and Alia Shawkat all have small roles). It’s just a shame that the film never quite reaches the levels that it could. 6/10
Searching for Sugar Man [dir. Malik Bendjelloul]
So much has already been said about this Oscar-winning documentary that I pretty much knew the story inside and out before even watching this. Yet despite knowing the story, I remained enthralled by the mystique of the little-known singer, Rodriguez. For the uninclined, the film tells the story of 70s rock-and-roll singer, Rodriguez, who released a couple albums to little fanfare in the U.S. yet managed to become a huge sensation in South Africa. The documentary takes a look at this bizarre phenomenon while also trying to find out what happened to the singer. There are all sorts of rumors about him in South Africa — some say he set himself on fire while on stage, others say he died of a drug overdose — but these tall tales only add to his aura.
The truth is that Rodriguez is alive and well, and he is just as surprised by his legacy overseas as the rest of us. It’s a pretty remarkable story, and it helps that the man’s music is so good. It’s surprising that his 70s recordings got lost in the shuffle, but now his music is reaching a much larger audience than he could have imagined. Better late than never, right? This is a fun film with a great story, and it’s deserving of its constant praise. 8/10
Have you seen any of these? What did you think of them?