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'Celeste and Jesse' takes a ribald look at love

Writers' quirky friendship fuels story

Charles Ealy
Rashida Jones, left, and Andy Samberg are a couple who are married but are planning a divorce. Left to right: Rashida Jones as Celeste and Andy Samberg as Jesse in Celeste and Jesse Forever. Credit: David Lanzenberg/Sony Pictures Classics

If, in the coming weeks, you hear a young couple talking like German robots while dining in a restaurant or if you see them rubbing vegetables inappropriately at a party, you should know that they're probably imitating scenes from the new romantic comedy "Celeste and Jesse Forever."

The movie, which opens Friday, August 24 in Austin, has several quirky moments reminiscent of the "I'll have what she's having" scene in "When Harry Met Sally" — and it's bound to spawn a few copycat couples.

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" springs from the writing partnership of Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, and in many ways it's based on their own relationship.

"We met in 1999," says Jones, the daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton and a star of TV's "Parks and Recreation."

"Will's sister Mary McCormack set us up," Rashida Jones says, "and we dated for a couple of weeks and figured out quickly that we were better off as friends."

McCormack says that although the romance didn't work out, "we knew we were meant to be in each other's lives in some way" and that the friendship in the movie "is similar to ours, with the same intimacies and idiosyncrasies."

"We do a lot of stupid little voices that we share," McCormack says. "And we (rub) small pencils and vegetables together. We also play a game called impersonation, and you pick a person, and if you don't impersonate them, then you die."

In the movie, Andy Samberg plays Jesse, a slacker artist whose character is loosely based on McCormack, while Jones plays Celeste, a hard-driving, success-minded publicist in Los Angeles. McCormack has a supporting role as a pot dealer.

But the movie deviates from real life in that the characters of Celeste and Jesse are married and planning to get divorced. Both of them insist that they're going to remain friends, whatever happens, and they continue their cutesy intimacies — to the befuddlement of their friends.

Celeste, however, is the driving force behind the relationship. "She is strong, for sure, and slightly bossy," Jones says.

"She's convinced of what's right. She's ambitious, committed, very smart and accomplished, but primed for change."

McCormack describes the Celeste character in much the same terms. "She's very bright, and she's usually right," he says, "but her greatest assets are her Achilles' heel."

Jones says that the writing process went relatively smoothly, especially since it was her first screenplay with McCormack.

"We were very gentle and supportive of each other," she says.

"We were literally side by side and wrote every scene sitting next to each other."

She sees the movie as a romantic comedy, but notes that "there's also a lot of sadness, and that's a bit unusual for a romantic comedy."

Jones says that she and McCormack have the utmost respect for romantic comedies, "but in recent times I hadn't seen the portrayal of the heartbreak part. And when I'm dealing with heartbreak and pain, it gets messy."

The messiness in the movie stems from Jesse's eventual romantic involvement with another woman — and a few mistakes in Celeste's professional life.

"I'm thinking I'll be happy if people talk about the film in terms of what it's like to endure a breakup," McCormack says.

But both he and Jones know that the previously mentioned antics with vegetables might be the most memorable parts of the new film.

Jones says they usually don't do "the vegetable thing in public."

"We generally keep that kind of stuff to ourselves," she says. "We wondered whether to include it, and then thought, ‘Why not?' "

McCormack says that he and Jones do such things simply "to make each other laugh. If we're in a big car or something, we like to pull into small space and act like it's a sexual thing, too."

McCormack adds that he and Jones "really do talk together like German robots. It's just the kind of thing you do with your best friend."

Jones agrees, but says with a laugh: "It's irritating to our friends."

Contact Charles Ealy at 445-3931