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Rashida Jones on writing “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” her cinematic role models and more

Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg in Celeste and Jesse Forever

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By Jennifer Vineyard

When Celeste, as played by Rashida Jones in “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” notices things, she’s very particular. A guy she’s just met hits on her at a yoga class, and with a glance, she’s able to deliver this high-powered assessment: “You traded in your Porsche for an Audi because the economy’s still tanking, and you’re afraid you’ll lose your job. You just bought a Droid cell phone because you think it makes you seem more business-oriented instead of an iPhone, which you think is for teenage girls. You go to yoga because you went to a sub-Ivy League school, and you spent the last ten years working long hours and drinking all weekend and you thought it was time to do something spiritual.” Chris Messina, the guy who’s just failed at asking her out, is dumbfounded, because she was right. And as Holly Hunter told us in “Broadcast News,”‘ it’s awful to always believe you know better, to always be right.

Celeste belongs in the same league as Hunter’s classic Jane Craig character as well as Meg Ryan’s Sally Albright from “When Harry Met Sally… “– she’s a complex, difficult, articulate character whose primary relationship is with her male best friend. Jones, who also co-wrote “Celeste and Jesse” with her writing partner Will McCormack, told IFC that they were her role models.

“We watched ‘When Harry Met Sally…’ so many times, ad nauseum, while writing,” Jones said. “And ‘Annie Hall,’ ‘Husbands and Wives,’ and ‘Broadcast News,’ because they are perfect. I just watched ‘Broadcast News’ again two days ago. The performances are perfect. I was so surprised and elated by Holly Hunter’s performance, which still feels so fresh. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

The way Sally orders food in a restaurant or Jane gives directions to a D.C. cabbie — even if in real life, those directions make no sense — speak volumes about their characters. “They feel empowered by their sense of the world,” Jones said. “They created an identity based on this somewhat flawed perception of what’s right, what’s wrong, and you can see it very clearly, very quickly, by someone ordering a sandwich, and how it works for them. They are so particular.”

It’s a trait that someone could hate — call it high-maintenance — or something that could become lovable, as Harry discovers with Sally’s tendency to get everything “on the side.” Both characters, by the way, are based on real-life counterparts — CBS news producer Susan Zirinsky for Jane Craig, and the late writer/director Nora Ephron for Sally Albright. Jones, who was “thrilled” and “excited” to meet Zirinsky at the White House Correspondents Dinner, said that’s what helps make both characters relatable. “That reads,” she said. “Those are real people, and the characters feel real, you know?”

So Jones wanted to take elements of her own character and dating life, and add them to that model, to pay homage to Jane and Sally, “and hopefully add something to it,” she explained. “In our story, as much as that way of being has made Celeste’s life successful, it doesn’t mean she can control everything. And when life happens to her, she’s forced to revaluate how she perceives the world, you know? It all blends together, because she’s making snap judgments about somebody at work, and she’s wrong about it, and she learns from it.”

Jones said that it’s something she battles, too — “my own sense of right, and how myopic that can make me at times” — because it was a survival tool that worked for her and helped her become successful, but it also stands in her way. “I’ve spent enough time in therapy to know that!” she laughed. “This movie was an exorcism of a certain kind of flaw that I don’t like about myself, because I can be very black and white, and make decisions about things, and then once I’ve decided, I’m decided, and it was very hard to change my mind. I don’t really think that way anymore. Getting older is about realizing that you’re never going to know what it’s about, and you have to kind of accept that, you know?”

In Celeste’s situation, she was married to her best friend Jesse (played by Andy Samberg), and when the movie starts, the couple are separated and getting a divorce — yet still hang out all the time together. Unlike traditional romantic comedies, or even romantic dramedies, this one is about learning to let go of romantic fantasies about happily ever after. “I think part of being an adult is leaving the fairytale behind,” Jones said. “I think rom-coms have reflected that over the ages. We kind of got stuck in a box in the ’90s and ‘2000s, but we’re coming out of it again. We’re telling new stories. Judd Apatow is telling romantic stories from the slacker guy’s point of view. And now we have slacker girls, and all these indie comedies like ‘(500) Days of Summer’ where it’s about loving somebody and changing their life because you love them instead.”

Two other post rom-coms this summer, “Lola Versus” and “Take This Waltz,” also explored the similar terrain of complex women trying to find themselves after the breakup, with varying results. “It’s weird,” Jones said. “How does something end up in the zeitgeist? It’s a perfect storm of the people who do it and the people who want it. I hope it’s not just a passing trend, because women have been complex and interesting and dynamic and smart forever, and they will continue to be.”

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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