Reviewer's Rating: ★★★1/2
Smarter and more original than the phony, empty romantic comedies Hollywood usually churns out, Celeste and Jesse Forever goes places no romantic comedy has gone before.
Celeste and Jesse make an annoyingly cute couple. They sing together in the car, as if they’re the happiest couple in the whole U.S.A. At a restaurant with their friends, the soon-to-be-married Beth and Tucker, Celeste and Jesse’s childish behavior drives their company away.
Oblivious to their friends’ discomfort at dinner, Celeste and Jesse engage in more juvenile games on their way home. Upon arriving at their destination, however, the truth about the relationship is revealed.
She goes in the house. He goes in the detached studio behind the house. Jesse and Celeste have been separated for six months. They’re getting a divorce.
Rashida Jones plays Celeste. She also co-wrote Celeste and Jesse Forever with her platonic friend and writing partner, Will McCormack.
Andy Samberg, who recently left the cast of Saturday Night Live after a seven-year run, co-stars as Jesse. His other film this summer is the Adam Sandler comedy That’s My Boy.
Samberg’s track record in movies being poor, it’s good to report that his amusing, natural performance in Celeste and Jesse Forever suggests he has a future in movies after all.
Jones and McCormack’s script sets compelling conflict in motion. Celeste and Jesse are torn between staying together, in the married sense, and not staying together. The story shows both characters wrestling with needs and desires, growing, changing, adapting. It’s painful for them, entertaining for the audience.
Early in the story, Celeste calls the shots. While it’s not explicitly stated, she apparently is the impetus behind the couple’s separation and pending divorce.
Celeste is successful. She owns a media consulting firm. She’s a trend forecaster who’s called upon to deliver sound bites for the likes of The Los Angeles Times. But wouldn’t that be a print bite? Nevertheless, Celeste’s company lands an important and profitable new client of the Britney Spears, Katy Perry pop-star ilk (played with effectively pretty, vacant style by Emma Roberts).
Jesse? Not so successful. A freelance artist, he’s workless at the moment, except for whatever assignment his soon to be ex-wife grants him. So as Celeste soars, Jesse slums in underachieving post-adolescent limbo.
The movie’s script makes well-orchestrated turns in directions that aren’t so obvious. Jones gives a comedic performance mined from pain. Samberg moves on from his normally light comedy to credible dramatic territory.
All the while the movie’s writing is unusually good. Examples include the initially encouraging but ultimately disappointing description Celeste’s friend Beth (Ari Graynor) gives her regarding the new woman in Jesse’s life. The lovely Veronica (Rebecca Dayan), Beth says, is simple — in an elegant way.
A post-Lord of the Rings Elijah Wood, co-starring as Celeste’s bespectacled business associate, Scott, gets good lines, too.
Celeste and Jesse Forever is clever, funny and genuine enough to stir anticipation for the next writing project from Parks and Recreation co-star Jones, not to mention whatever roles she’s got in the acting pipeline.