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Celeste and Jesse Forever: Why No Blacks Friends in the New Flick?

Rashida Jones, daughter of Quincy Jones, tends to play “raceless” characters on TV and in movies. Why?

After seeing the new film  Celeste and Jesse Forever, I was reminded of something writer dream hampton once said to me regarding the whiteness of the independent film industry. We were talking about how these sorts of films are often prompted by personal stories that reflect the filmmaker’s individual reality. Citing the landmark 1995 indie film  Kids as an example, dream said: "So if your reality, Larry Clarke, is a bunch of white kids doing drugs and saying 'nigga' all day, then that's fine. That's your reality."

At the end of “Celeste and Jesse,” which is co-written and co-produced by Rashida Jones (Quincy Jones' daughter with white actress Peggy Lipton) with her writing partner Will McCormick, I felt like saying: “So if your reality, Rashida Jones, is a bunch of so-hip-they’re-anti-hip white LA thirtysomethings smoking weed, eating orange cheese balls, and saying ‘totally’ all day, then that’s fine. That’s your reality.” And yet, I kind of wish it wasn’t.

Like fellow light-skinned, biracial actress Maya Rudolph, Jones, who also stars as Amy Poehler's best friend on NBC’s  Parks and Recreation, tends to play “raceless” characters in her film and television roles. And it’s not that she has to wear a t-shirt announcing her Black power pride, but it might be nice if there was at least some kind of acknowledgement or evidence that race matters, or has had an influence on her life. Other than Jones herself, two or three Black wedding guests and two Black divorce lawyers that appear toward the end (none of which have speaking parts), the film’s central cast is all white. This feels different from the lofty expectation that a white screenwriter (Jessica Westfeldt;  Friends with Kids) or TV writer (Lena Dunham;  Girls) who also stars in her work would create a world that includes a surplus of Black friends. But Quincy's baby? No Black friends? Bummer.

Having said that,  Celeste and Jesse Forever, directed by Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind), is a fine little film that is not without its charm and genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. Jones plays Celeste, a bossy and righteous trend forecaster who has built a reasonably successful PR company, and also recently penned a book called "Shitegeist." She is married to Jesse, played by former SNL cast member (and  Dick in a Box duet partner to Justin Timberlake)  Andy Samberg, an artist without a checking account, or his own car, as Celeste is quick to point out. They met in college and are married for six years before they decide to separate, but remain best friends, which addles their mutual friends who try not to take sides but are nonetheless perplexed (and annoyed) by the whole dynamic.      

It's never outright stated what the reason is for their separation, but the clear implication is that Jesse is taking too long to grow up and become a responsible adult, and Celeste wants someone who is already a grown up responsible adult.

And so the film unfolds as Celeste and Jesse continue to hang out together every day, revel in their inside jokes and funny accents, with Jesse living in his art studio behind Celeste’s house. Until things get complicated, as they are wont to do.

A boozy night that includes an Ikea dresser results in Celeste and Jesse sleeping together, which Jesse wrongly assumes means a reconciliation. After that he moves on, and Celeste does not. She realizes she has taken Jesse for granted. Several more plot points ensue. They date other people. Jesse’s one night stand resurfaces pregnant with his baby, and he decides to make it work with her. Celeste is devastated, and goes on a bender. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s likely not what you expected it to be.