Celeste And Jesse Forever
Written by Rashida Jones & Will McCormack
White Script - May 2011
Romantic Comedy, 110 pages
"Yeah there's nothing wrong with that. I mean, what do you think?" - Celeste
I was looking for an edgy, non-traditional romantic comedy (read: one that doesn't essentially end in a wedding), and Celeste And Jesse Forever more than fit the bill. An indie flick about two best friends who are trying to maintain their friendship following their divorce while also pursuing new relationships, there's a rawness and honesty to the story and characters that makes this a compelling read.
It was written by Rashida Jones & Will McCormack. Jones also starred in the film, McCormack played one of the supporting characters, and the two were additionally attached as executive producers. As such, they'd be involved with the piece from start to finish, so the script had more freedom than others. As writers, stars, and producers, the project was already a go.
Right away I noticed several non-standard elements of formatting. Instead of dashes, an asterisk or a star was used as the bullet points for the opening picture montage. Everything was also written in a really compact manner without allowing a lot of white space on the page. For example, the first block of the montage runs eight lines down, double the usual standard, and includes four distinct images. It was a lot all at once and slowed down my read a bit, as it felt almost like I was reading a novel.
Thoughts, which aren't really things that can be filmed, were also often included in the action blocks. There's one on page 12 that runs a full nine lines from the left to the right of the page and includes, "Is it weird that we hang out so much?" I'm not sure how Celeste's thought would transmit to the audience, but it definitely lets the reader/actress in on the inner world of the scene.
That being said, fun descriptions is also where the script shines. Phrases like "man-boy," "his game is wack," and "gets the hell out of dodge" really pop. They're recognizable, create instant mental images, are amusing, and set the contemporary tone. Similarly, Celeste's office is described as only looking "like the future" as "no walls, just large glass slabs, separate the offices from each other." It's quick and creates the feel while inviting me to actively imagine the space. I enjoyed these sketched descriptions as I felt they invited me to become a participant in the creation of the story.
Dialogue was also used to reveal character. One of my favorite exchanges:
Scott: If you are looking for my opinion, I do think you should start dating.
Celeste: I don't do dating. The right guy will show up. And I'm still on track for my 25 year plan.
Scott: No one has a 25 year plan. Except for my mortgage company.
Celeste: First child at 33. Second at 35. Which means I will only be 56 at my eldest's college graduation. The bad news is I may not be at my 4th grandchild's high school graduation. But that's okay, I guess.
Scott: I'm fascinated with the mentally ill.
We're shown, not told, that Celeste is a planner. She's different from other people and thinks she has it all figured out. Obviously, she doesn't.
Writing for a self-produced piece is different than writing on spec or for a large production company. Jones & McCormack included Rachel Maddow as a character (playing herself), which helped to set up Celeste's status, and included specific songs throughout the screenplay. These are things that could be red flags to a production company, but they created the feel Jones & McCormack were going for. As they were producing the piece themselves, they also understood that these elements could be changed as needed. Interestingly enough, when I looked at IMDb I did not see Rachel Maddow, or her character, in the cast. They did, however, have Shira Lazer. When I get a chance to watch the completed film, I'll definitely be interested to see how that played out.