Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)

27 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I love Rashida Jones. Everything she’s in, I’m always curious about; I’m not going to lie. Jones has a very appealing personality that comes with undeniable talent that mixes wit with sweetness; you can’t help but pay attention to her because when she doesn’t make you laugh, she makes you smile. It’s impossible for me to dislike her. I loved her in “The Office”; she’s very funny in “Parks & Recreation”; and she’s fresh and appealing in comedies such as “I Love You, Man” and “Our Idiot Brother.” I will watch her in just about anything. Sometimes, though, I feel she’s underused, which is why I was delighted to find that she takes the lead role in a script that she co-wrote. That film is the romantic-comedy-drama “Celeste and Jesse Forever.”

As you can tell by the title, Jones plays the “Celeste” in that titular couple. Who’s “Jesse?” Andy Samberg. Right away, I’m hooked—Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg together. I’ve always been a fan of Samberg’s “SNL” work and especially his hilarious, collaborative Lonely Island shorts (and he “killed” as a host on the 2009 MTV Movie Awards), so pairing him with Jones had me curious but also interested. What really surprised me was that Samberg had impressive range as an actor, something I never found in “Hot Rod” or “I Love You, Man” which required him to play broadly comedic roles. Here, he’s pretty good and delivers the type of solid (even subtle) performance the role needs, especially considering…

OK, I’m getting ahead of myself here. I just admire these two comic actors so much that I already liked the film before I even saw it. What do I think of the film itself?

Well first, I’ll just state that it exceeded my expectations by not being a mainstream romantic-comedy with two likable leads and a series of comedic antics and dramatic conflict (we already had “The Five-Year Engagement” for that, I guess). Instead, while it is good-hearted, the film, written by Jones and Will McCormack and directed by Lee Toland Krieger, presents more of a nonconventional look at what happens after the end of a relationship.

The story: Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Samberg) are a likable couple who married young and find themselves at a crossroads now pushing the age of 30. To keep from hating each other, they separate, awaiting divorce, but remain close friends. They still hang out together, laugh at each other’s jokes, and despite the separation, they still live on the same property. They’re still in love with each other, but they won’t admit it. Celeste and Jesse are happy with this friendship, however, although their friends, Beth (Ari Graynor) and Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen), think it’s weird that these two are still close with one another, despite getting divorced. Celeste states that the reason she wants to divorce him is because Jesse is not the right husband for her, since she is a successful career woman and he is unemployed and a bit of a slacker.

Jesse runs into a woman he shared a one-night stand with, Veronica (Rebecca Dayan). It turns out that she’s pregnant with his baby and he decides to stick with her, meaning that the friendship between him and Celeste is on hold for long periods of time. Once reality sinks in, Celeste realizes that she loves Jesse and wants him back, but she probably can’t get him back. As time goes by, Celeste’s life spins out of control and she finds himself incapable of being the way she was when Jesse was around.

This is not the typical romantic-comedy in which two people meet, fall in love, endure certain problems (usually a villain that gets in the way of things), and they get married. While that is overdone, I think maybe I would have liked to see the meeting of Celeste and Jesse, oddly enough. But to be fair, it’s probably because Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg make such an appealing couple that I would have loved following the story of how they met. The early scenes in which they’re together are wonderful, as the two play off each other perfectly with the right amount of timing. But anyway, instead of the usual romantic-comedy clichés, we have the couple reaching the end of their relationship, long after they were married. This is not a film about how the most important thing is to love and be loved, though it is acknowledged that love is powerful; it’s mainly a case of these two people dealing with the poignancy the regret of this situation. There may be a second chance, there may not. This worked especially well for me, because I never knew from one point to the next what was going to happen, which is unusual because I usually pretend to predict the outcome of a romantic-comedy. I didn’t know if they would get back together or even if they would be happy at all (though to be fair, there is that suspicion that the latter is probable in some way).

The second half of “Celeste and Jesse Forever” shows Celeste as she turns from being a happy, controlled businesswoman to being an out-of-control neurotic—it’s like the indie-cred version of “Bridesmaids,” which also featured a neurotic woman struggling to seek control of her life. This puts Rashida Jones center-screen—a leading role. I’m not even surprised when I realize she’s excellent here. She has great range as an actress, she delivers her lines naturally, and I hope that more screenwriters and directors create another role with her abilities in mind so that she herself doesn’t have to create a character for herself (I mentioned before that she co-wrote the screenplay).

Does everything about “Celeste and Jesse Forever” work? Well, not quite. I found a few things to be distracting, like the subplot involving a teen-queen (played by Emma Roberts) who comes into Celeste’s life, and a few unnecessarily harsh moments that sort of drag. But if I’m going to pick on one supporting character, I should name a few others because they do have their funny moments—Celeste’s gay boss (Elijah Wood), whom I was glad was not portrayed in a broad, stereotypical fashion (in fact, the film even cracks a few jokes at the stereotype the character could have been); Skillz (McCormack), the local pot-dealer; and the newlywed couple played by Graynor and Olsen. I have to be honest and say that I’m generally not a fan of Graynor’s usual airheadedness (sue me; I didn’t find her very charming in “Nick and Noah’s Infinite Playlist”), but I thought she acquitted herself nicely here.

“Celeste and Jesse Forever” has its funny moments, but the laughs come from authenticity rather than forced dirty humor you usually find in romantic-comedies desperate for a laugh. This is a romantic-comedy that seems real and credible, with interesting characters and a genuine feel for both Celeste and Jesse. It may not be “forever” for these two, but maybe they’ll remain “just friends.” (Oh boy, here we go again…)

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