Rashida Jones Creates a Thinking Woman's Romantic Comedy
With partner Will McCormack, Rashida Jones writes a role for herself that defies the clichés of the genre, in Celeste and Jesse Forever, a film which opens today in New York and Los Angeles.
Since graduating from Harvard University, where she appeared in such plays as For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf and The Odd Couple: The Female Version, Rashida Jones continues to stay busy. The daughter of music producer Quincy Jones and "The Mod Squad" star Peggy Lipton, her television credits include "The Office," "Freaks and Geeks" and "Unhitched," and she currently co-stars with Amy Poehler on "Parks and Recreation" as Ann Perkins, the nurse. She also acts in movies, including The Social Network, I Love You, Man, and The Muppets.
But that’s not all—the versatile Jones (who also wrote a comic book about a rich heiress who has a double life as a C.I.A. spy) has made her debut as a screenwriter, with Celeste and Jesse Forever, written with longtime friend, actor Will McCormack (Syriana, "The Sopranos," "Brothers and Sisters"). In it, Jones plays Celeste, a smart ambitious woman who owns her own media-consulting firm and has written a book about spotting trends. She and Jesse (Adam Samberg), an unemployed artist, are divorcing, but continue to be best friends who hang out every day. When Jesse gets into another relationship, it blindsides Jones’ character. Jones said the story appealed to her as a way to explore friendship and to make a humorous movie about heartbreak. She and McCormack, who dated briefly before deciding they were better as friends, are fans of romantic comedy, and they wanted to flip the archetypes of the genre. One way they did that was not making Celeste, a successful woman, a cliché or someone to make fun of.
Jones says Celeste is somewhat like her—unapologetic about what she wants in her life and not lacking in confidence.
"She’s very comfortable in her standing in life," Jones said. "She’s strong minded, but she’s not there to be the butt of a joke—how she is is not there to be criticized."
Jones and McCormack (who plays the pot dealer, Skillz, in the movie) wrote the script in Jones’ backyard, passing the laptop back and forth, reading all the dialogue out loud and sometimes blocking out the scenes to see how they would go. They wanted to show Celeste dissolving when she realizes that her friendship with Jesse is not totally within her control—but not in the way typical of romantic comedies where the character ends up on the couch, snuffling while eating Häagen-Dazs.
Producer Jennifer Todd, a friend of both Jones’ and McCormack’s, knows something about being a powerful woman in Hollywood, having produced Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, as well as the Austin Powers movies and the independent movie, Memento. Todd appreciated that Celeste didn’t have to lose her job and be made ridiculous to be likable. This subverts the way a studio comedy usually goes, she says.
"In a female driven movie, one of the rules of Hollywood is you have to knock the woman down off her pedestal and bring her back up," Todd said. "This is just so relatable. It feels real to me. She’s not a caricature. It’s a messy movie. There’s some gray in it, not just black and white. They’re trying to stay friends and they don’t know what the rules are."
Jones, who is now working with McCormack on a screenplay for her comic book, Frenemy of the State, said that with the Celeste character, "it's about her internal journey, not a criticism about what she's chosen to do with her life." Jones said that she knows lots of women who have prioritized their work. In the movie, she says, Celeste "wants to be right and like a character in the movie says to her, 'You can't be right and be happy.'" Jones wanted to show how Celeste thinks being smart can keep her safe from heartbreak.
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