“Celeste and Jesse Forever” explores the relationship of the perfect couple, and why they couldn't seem to make it work. Star and co-screenwriter Rashida Jones starts with an amicable parting and then really messes with the lives of the title couple, giving herself a strong seriocomic showcase and finally letting Andy Samberg confirm suspicions that the former “Saturday Night Live” star can really, truly act.
At the outset, Celeste (Jones of “Parks and Recreation”) and Jesse (Samberg) seem ideal as they banter at a dinner with friends Beth and Tucker (Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen) — they share an easy and rare chemistry. But the infuriating truth, as Beth sees it, is that people who clearly love and like one another this much should not be getting a divorce after six years of marriage.
Jones and script collaborator Will McCormack, who appears in a small role as Jesse's pot-dealing buddy Skillz, go to work fleshing out the characters and how it went wrong without any flashbacks or much exposition. Celeste is a trend forecaster for a marketing company, so it is her business to be right about the past, present and especially the future. Jesse, on the other hand, is an artist without the drive or the certainty to keep up with his wife. He is sweet natured, but barely knows what he's doing. As much as Jesse and Celeste loved each other — and as the title suggests, they always will — their personalities caught up with their good intentions.
The explication over just how much Celeste's attitudes affected the outcome can be a little too on-the-nose, since a key framing device involves how Jones' character deals with people who are clearly and defiantly in the wrong. She is paid to tell people the truth as she sees it, and as it turns out, it is also a hobby. Jesse is less grounded in certainty. This carries its own failings, since he is stumbling into parenthood with Veronica (Rebecca Dayan), a woman he just barely knows, but he is trying to fall in love with her partly because he feels it is right, and partly because he misses what he had with Celeste.
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger, who made an impressive debut with 2009's “The Vicious Kind” (starring Jones' “Parks and Recreation” co-star, Adam Scott), “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is bolstered by nice supporting performances by Elijah Wood as Celeste's boss and Emma Roberts as Riley Banks, a Ke$ha-like pop star who the contemptuous Celeste is forced to market. But this is Jones and Samberg's show, and both give impressively emotional performances as people who smile and laugh a lot but are secretly — and then not-so-secretly — sad and getting sadder. Fortunately, the funny moments and sweet chemistry between Samberg and Jones keep “Celeste and Jesse Forever” from becoming a study in miserable-ism a la “Blue Valentine.”
The film does meander and occasionally traffics in overly familiar characters and behavioral tropes, but “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is brave enough to suggest, against the strict laws of romantic comedy dynamics, that some things cannot be fixed and true love might not conquer all. But the consolation in the post-married life of Celeste and Jesse is that smart people, if they start paying attention, can learn from their many mistakes.
— George Lang
“Celeste and Jesse Forever”
Starring: Andy Samberg, Emma Roberts, Elijah Wood, Rashida Jones, Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen.
(Language, sexual content and drug use)
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