Rashida Jones as Celeste
Andy Samberg as Jesse
Rebecca Dayan as Veronica
Ari Graynor as Beth
Eric Christian Olsen as Tucker
Chris Messina as Paul
Will McCormack as Skillz
Emma Roberts as Riley
Elijah Wood as Scott
Janel Parrish as Savannah
Sarah Wright as Tera
Chris D’Elia as Snow White
Rich Sommer as Max
Rafi Gavron as Rupert Bates
Matthew Del Negro as Nick Moran
Joel Michaely as Edward
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
After six years of marriage, Jesse (Andy Samberg) and Celeste (Rashida Jones) are getting divorced, except they’re still best of friends, which makes their mutual friends feel awkward around them. Their relationship becomes more complicated making it obvious that it’s time they move on and see other people, but something keeps bringing them back together.
You can probably thank (or blame) Judd Apatow for the insurgence of actors turned screenwriters trying to emulate his success with R-rated fare. “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is based around the talents of Rashida Jones, who has proven a number of times she has a lot going as an actress, whether doing comedy or drama, but here proves that she also has talent for writing. Like the recent “Lola Versus,” it’s an indie trying to disguise itself as a mainstream rom-com, although one may have to dig deeper to find the romance and humor since much of the movie takes a more serious approach to long-term off-and-on relationships.
The first time I saw this movie at Sundance, everyone seemed fake and shallow and the situations felt contrived, but on repeat viewing and with a bit of time in between, there’s actually a lot more depth to be found in the film.
The movie opens in a strange place as Celeste and Jesse are having dinner with their soon-to-be-married friends, Beth and Tucker, played by Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen, and while they start spouting cutesy banter, we learn they’ve been separated even though Jesse still lives in the garage right next door to Celeste. Despite their impending divorce, they’ve chosen to remain friends
Considering how skilled Jones is as an actress in getting people invested in her characters, it’s little wonder that someone’s backing her to help her much like Apatow did with Kristin Wiig for “Bridesmaids.” Unfortunately, Samberg isn’t anywhere on the same plane as Jones when it comes to the dramatic scenes and their cutesy behavior can be as trying as when your parents or friends in a relationship do that sort of thing.
The film only starts to falter when we learn that Jesse’s one night stand with the supermodel hot Veronica (Rebecca Dayan) ended with her getting pregnant and he tells Celeste he’s having a baby with her. That’s a fairly large leap we’re expected to take in terms of suspending disbelief, but once they’re separated, it becomes more of Celeste’s story as we follow her trying to find a good man only to end up with one dud after another. This leads to a number of funny bad dates not unlike ones we’ve seen in dozens of other romantic comedies. Some of these situations seem like they’d be more appropriate for a TV sitcom, and often in playing with typical romcom archetypes. The movie ends up falling into some of the same traps, even going through some of the cliché endings that come with the territory including a heartfelt wedding speech and a somewhat obvious resolution.
Jones co-wrote the film with Will McCormack, who appears in the role of her friend, a rapper-wannabe named “Skillz.” This gender balance may help keep the guys in the film from being too perfect or imperfect, one of the problems often suffered by female-driven rom-comics. The ever-present Chris Messina (who appeared with Jones in “Monogamy”) is the guy who ends up coming closest to helping Celeste get past Jesse, but that subplot isn’t resolved well and the film suffers from there being too many ideas and many characters who aren’t very well developed, including Celeste’s gay boss, played by Elijah Wood. Celeste working at a marketing firm also puts her into contact with an even shallower pop star, played by Emma Roberts, which just adds to the number of unnecessary subplots,
Director Lee Toland Krieger, last at Sundance with the family drama “The Vicious Kind,” does a decent job making a slick commercial-looking movie, capturing Los Angeles from a lot of different angles. More importantly, his cameras make Jones look fantastic although the first time we saw it, we wondered whether he was deliberately lighting Jones to make her seem whiter.
The Bottom Line:
“Celeste and Jesse” is the definition of a sleeper that sneaks up on you. As much as it meanders at times and delivers into predictable mainstream rom-com territory, Rashida Jones’ unquestionable talent keeps it afloat and keeps every moment interesting.