Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Knowing a little more

There was a topic that I really wanted to explore yesterday. I didn't get a chance to, but today I think I will.

You know when you go into a theater thinking you're going to be watching one thing, then you end up watching something completely different? The consequences of this experience aren't always the greatest. Sometimes, in fact, they're the absolute worst. Like when I went to see this play at school once thinking it would be some clever period drama, but found out it was just a series of scenes depicting various characters having sexual relations.

Other times, you walk into a theater expecting something entertaining and walk out with new tools for dealing with life. Somehow it answered the questions you've always had. Even if you already knew the answers, it was this movie that convinced you those answers were correct.

My friend Diana and I went on a girl date yesterday. We wanted to see each other to talk about silly things - boys and life and boys and more boys, mainly - so we scheduled a special time for us to hang out. We decided our activity would be a casual dinner and a movie. And when I realized I had this pretty new dress I wanted to wear, I figured we might as well make it a mock date by having both of us dress up. This is what dorky girls do when they're hanging out with friends.

I suggested what I believed would be a (500) Days of Summer-esque romantic comedy for us to enjoy. We got into the theater and had it virtually to ourselves. And we sat back and absorbed.

Literally, absorbed. Because you can watch as many movies as you like, but only the great ones enter into your brain as if by osmosis. They seep through your pores and into your mind (clearly I know the ins and outs of osmosis), only to result in vague exclamations of excitement once the film is over. "That good," was probably a phrase frequently overheard by those sitting near us in Chipotle while we had our post-movie dinner.

I guess I absorbed (500) Days of Summer back when I saw it in theaters in 2009 (was it really that long ago?). But not in the same way that I did Celeste and Jesse Forever when I watched it with Diana in 2012.

In some way I was already predestined to love this movie. I enjoyed Rashida Jones as Karen in The Office and this summer I've become a massive fan of Parks and Recreation, in which she portrays Ann Perkins. I also love Andy Samberg and stalked Eric Christian Olsen with my eyes at the CBS Press Tour a few weeks ago (chill out, we were in the TV Guide tent at the same time and I just happened to find him unsurprisingly attractive. I didn't actually stalk him).

So the cast was already set for greatness. Plus the script was written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, based loosely on their own relationship as couple-turned-friends. On paper, this was going to be a great movie. I knew that going in.

On the screen, it was so much more.

I think one of the things that sets me off with movies is their realistic depictions of physicality. It took me so much longer than the average person to get my first kiss that my mind had been littered with ridiculous versions of what kissing really is like. And all thanks to Hollywood. Even without the authenticity of the relationship between Samberg and Jones' characters, the physicality of their relationship was realistic in itself. I wanted to believe what was happening on the screen, because based on my experience it seemed plausible.

But the physical realism wasn't the tipping point turning this film from (500) Days of Summer cutesiness to its own Celeste and Jesse Forever truthfulness. I think what really drove me to accept and commiserate with this film and its characters was the experience that Celeste went through as the story progressed.

A brief synopsis would tell you that this is a movie about a divorced couple who remain best friends but go through the struggles of seeing other people while trying to move on from each other.

That's pretty accurate, I guess. But it's also not half the story. This movie is about timing and putting yourself on the line. It's about too many expectations and letting go of inhibitions. It's about wanting to find something perfect and learning to settle for what you need.

And the themes really force you to look to yourself for validation. Have I ever felt what they're feeling? was the constant question. Only a film that slices itself right out of a believable reality could do that.

There were no perfect Zooey Deschanel characters in this movie. When characters were miserable and tired, they looked that way. There was no Joseph Gordon Levitt in a bathrobe pretending to have spent days in bed when his face is clean-shaven and he looks made up like the studly Hollywood actor that he is.

Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg in Celeste and Jesse Forever.
Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg are beautiful people, as are their costars. But there was no fear in this film of making the audience aware that our characters were going downhill. They didn't seem to mind if they didn't "look" like actors. Sometimes we were tricked into believing a make-up team wasn't standing behind the cameraman at every step of the filmmaking process.

The real absorption of this movie came because there was no way to feel otherwise. It was like watching a true story play out on the screen, and if you looked away you'd miss something vital. Even if it was just the relative unwashed appearance of Rashida Jones' bangs. The little things were reminders that even if this was fiction, this was real.

And what meant even more was that along with the deterioration of Jones' very stately appearance was the deterioration of her stability. Jones' character, Celeste, is one that relies on herself. She's a breadwinner, an intellectual, a self-reliant strong heroine. But as the story goes on, we watch her figure out her own faults and start to grow more weary, more unsatisfied with who she is as a person.

I've gone through that kind of pain and discovery on a smaller scale. Those moments when you look in the mirror and see not only your physical self looking tired and withered, but the person inside you looking just as distraught.

Watching Celeste and Jesse Forever brought back hard memories of "never in the right place at the right time." It reminded me of when I've felt incomplete and wanted to fix things, only to find out that I have not even half the power that I thought I did. If I'm being honest, the movie scared times it was just too real.

I don't write this necessarily to compare this film against all other romantic comedies. And to be honest, I love (500) Days of Summer just as much as this movie, so using it as a punching bag has probably not been an entirely honest method of analysis.

The reason I write about CJF (I'm abbreviating the title, go figure) is to say that while you may be constantly looking for something perfect, whether in a movie or a relationship, you do well to go into all scenarios without expectations, without anything keeping you from experiencing everything to its fullest.

This is a philosophy that spans anything and everything. It governs the world. Without diving in, you never learn anything. I've done it, and in the process I've found out perhaps more about myself than I ever wanted to know.

But it's better to know a little more than to live in blissful ignorance. Of that, I'm sure. And Celeste and Jesse Forever showed me that. But it also showed me how I already knew that. And walking away, I know a little more than I ever knew before.

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