'Celeste and Jesse Forever': Rashida Jones and Co. Stick Together for a Breakup
There is a bit of irony in the story behind the story, because for a film that delivers the bittersweet truth that passion and desire cannot always outrun time, it was a fortuitous mix of persistent dedication and elusive luck that rescued and helped realize the dream of two best friends.
From the outside, it would seem that Celeste and Jesse Forever has led a charmed existence for an indie film, from its star-powered cast, to its entrance and grand critical raves at Sundance, to its sale to Sony Pictures Classics at that very festival. Getting the breakup dramedy to that stage, however, was a years-in-the-making struggle.
"Oh boy. It was so difficult. It was so difficult," co-writer and star Rashida Jones sighed in a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter. "Originally we wrote it, and we wrote it in about four months, and then we sold it really quickly to Fox Atomic, which was the best day of my life, and then a month later they folded. And then we sold it again to this company Overture Films, and then they folded a couple months later."
Film Review: Celeste and Jesse Forever
The film features Jones ( asCeleste) opposite SNL vet Andy Samberg (Jesse) in the story of lifelong best friends who marry young, realize that their marriage isn’t working out, and try to stay best friends even as they go through a separation and then divorce. Jones wrote it with her real-life best friend Will McCormack, who plays the supporting role of a lovable dunce drug dealer named Skillz.
McCormack credits Jones for sticking with trying to get the project up off the ground through the rollercoaster ride that followed, which entailed a series of three or four more financiers falling through.
“At some point I was like, ‘Well, it’ll be an okay writing sample, y’know?’” he remembered, calling the process heartbreaking. “It had just fallen apart so many times and at a certain point, it looked like it just wasn’t going to get made. And then like anything in life, especially in filmmaking, you’ve got to get a little lucky, and luckily we did.”
The film begins with Celeste and Jesse in the odd honeymoon stage of their breakup, still living together and trying to avoid the despair that seems an automatic accompaniment to the end of a marriage. Unwedded bliss doesn't last forever, though, resulting in what Jones calls "a romantic comedy, but inverted."
Perhaps it was that twist that kept a major studio, always risk-averse, from snatching it up.
Ultimately, Envision Media stepped in and financed the film, which had by then gone from a $20 million dollar budget with Atomic, to $12 million at Overture, and was continuing to sink. Initially slated to be directed by Seth Gordon Green, who left to helm Horrible Bosses when the Overture deal fell through, the pair ended up finding a fit with indie auteur Lee Toland Krieger, who had directed Jones’ Parks and Recreation co-star Adam Scott in 2009’s The Vicious Kind.
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“When I came on, it was like, going to be made for between $6-8 million, and then that budget just kept plummeting,” Krieger explained. “And it was just what I think was a microcosm of what was going on in our town. Look, when there are times when it’s not fun to be making a tiny little no budget little movie, because there are no places to sit, because you wanted to close the road so there are people driving by yelling at you.”
Ultimately, they settled on a microscopic $840,000 budget, cutting costs by having Jones drive her own car (a Prius), and trying to film at Krieger’s own home in West Hollywood -- something that the city, after putting them through reams of applications permits, banned at the last minute due to a street sweeping that meant the road had to be cleared all day. Timing is everything, even once the check has been written.
“But I’m glad that we made it for the size we did, because we knew, by the time we got on set, that every single person that was there because they desperately wanted to be there,” Krieger laughed. “They loved the people, they loved the material, there was not a chance they were in it for the money, because nobody made a nickel.”