IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Romancing the movies
IAN SPELLING
Friday, September 14, 2012

Hollywood good girl Rashida Jones ambitiously scripts herself a leading role in Celeste and Jesse Forever, flipping all the notions we have about romantic comedies on its head

Romantic comedies are something we need to have, thinks Rashida Jones. The Parks and Recreation star is riding high on her back-to-back roles of 2011 – in The Big Year, Friends with Benefits and Our Idiot Brother. After being relegated to affable but often-forgettable side roles, she finally takes leading lady status in her new movie Celeste and Jesse Forever.

“I know that people say romantic comedies are the most difficult kind of films to make,” says Jones, “and maybe people say that because it’s a difficult genre to execute a fresh take on, because you’ve seen it all before.

“'I think all of the conventions of the romantic comedy are so deeply imbedded and ingrained in our subconscious because we’ve grown up with them and the romance of them is something we need to have,” Jones continues. “It just feels fulfilling. I have to say, though, that the reason I like romantic comedies is less about the guy getting the girl at the end and more about exploring the intricacies of relationships and somehow finding the way to define the time through the eyes of the people in the relationships. That’s what movies like Annie Hall (1977), When Harry Met Sally (1989) and Broadcast News (1987) did so well.”

In her new movie, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Will McCormack, who briefly dated Jones and is now her writing partner and best friend, scripts the movie with her, and also plays a supporting role in the film, which is out now in limited release.

“So, with our film, Will and I tried to invert what we knew already, the things we loved in romantic comedies, and maybe flip them so it feels a little unexpected,” she says. “We wanted to explore relationships in a way that felt unexpected and, from what I’ve heard from people who’ve seen our movie, my character has some characteristics that are generally attributed to the man in romantic comedies.

“We also wanted to show the painful part of a breakup in a way that didn’t just feel cute,” Jones adds. “In a lot of rom-coms, the pain is adorable, and we wanted to get past that.”

As for Jones, she’s the talented, 35-year-old daughter of actress Peggy Lipton and legendary music producer Quincy Jones. She counts among her credits Boston Public (2000-2002), Wanted (2005), The Office (2006-2011) and The Social Network (2010). Currently she co-stars as Ann Perkins on Parks and Recreation, having been with the show since its 2009 debut.

Celeste and Jesse Forever stars Jones as Celeste and Andy Samberg as Jesse. Freshly divorced, ostensibly because he’s too immature and she’s too career-focused, they nevertheless remain best friends. Celeste is thrown for a loop, however, when Jesse prepares to settle down with a woman he impregnated during a one-night stand. Speaking by telephone from a London hotel after a day of shooting her latest movie, Cuban Fury, Jones calls Celeste and Jesse Forever “a breakup movie.”

“We fast-forward, literally fast-forward, through the falling-in-love part of the story,” Jones says. “What we were interested in making a movie about is how long it takes to break up with somebody, how many iterations you go through of falling in love, falling out of love, falling back in love, not wanting to let go, then letting go and then being upset that the other person has let you go.

“Actually, letting go is what it’s about, even more than breaking up.”

It’s nice to see Jones attain leading-lady status, in a role she quite ambitiously wrote for herself. The real surprise in Celeste and Jesse Forever, though, is the performance of Samberg, who displays the goofy, manchild humor of his days on Saturday Night Live (2004-2012) but also unveils a welcome grounded, dramatic side.

“Andy and I have been friends for a long time,” Jones says. “We met about eight years ago and really just immediately liked each other. He was perfect for this part, not just because of who he is as a person, but because the essence of this character is in Andy and he’s never gotten a chance to show that onscreen.

“It’s really exciting to watch somebody do that for the first time,” she adds. “He was really in it the whole time, and really surprised me and impressed me. I think people will feel the same way when they see this.''

Jones has been around the entertainment business her entire life, and has been in it for about 15 years now. Lately, though, she’s been wondering if she actually likes the business.

“It’s funny,” she says. “When I’m in L.A. and I’m in it and I’m taking meetings and we’re developing projects and we’re talking to people and we’re on set, I love it. I think it’s the greatest place on Earth. Then, the minute I leave the country and I sit somewhere and I read a book or I talk to people from a different country or I read a newspaper from a different country, it opens everything up. I start to think, ‘Is it ridiculous that I spend all my time in this tiny, tiny place? this little world that finds itself really important and, really, it’s not?'

“We’re not curing any diseases,” Jones says. “We’re not saving anybody from poverty or starvation. We’re entertaining people, and that’s lovely, but I think it’s good to keep it in perspective. I like elements of the business. I think there’s an inherent schadenfreude that maybe makes it difficult. You have to have a thick skin.”

Keeping things in perspective could be tough, given the privilege — or the perceived privilege — accorded Jones in her life. Her parents are wealthy, and she famously attended the same school as Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. Somewhere along the line, though, Jones has made some choices that her schoolmates didn’t.

“I credit my parents 100 percent,” she says. “I just have parents who did what they did because they loved it. When they made money and were successful at their work, it didn’t become about giving us everything that they ever wanted and more. It became about instilling in us the things that were important to them about how they got to where to they got, and that was love and passion and hard work and being honest with yourself.

“I think that’s the key,” Jones concludes. “It was never about being flashy, it was never about being spoiled. It wasn’t about showing other people what you had or didn’t have.

“It was about working hard and loving what you do.”

— New York Times Syndicate

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