Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics/David Lanzenberg
Movies have been trying to answer the question of whether men and women can be friends for years. But rarely do they find it. “Celeste and Jesse Forever” approaches this question in reverse, focusing on a divorcing couple trying to stay best friends. While we may never know the answer, the result is a funny, honest and real movie about two people who just weren’t meant to be.
“Celeste and Jesse Forever” is about Celeste (Rashida Jones, “The Muppets”) and Jesse’s (Andy Samberg, “That’s My Boy”) attempts to maintain their close friendship after their divorce. The film skips over the depressing separation in which Celeste, a rising career woman and perfectionist, is frustrated over Jesse’s apparent inability to grow beyond his surfer man-child persona. Now that they’re divorced and Jesse’s living in the guest house, things seemed like it would go back to normal. However, this gets their relationship stuck in an awkward rut, which everyone could see except them.
“Celeste and Jesse Forever” seemed to meander a little in terms of what direction it wanted to go. Was it a romantic comedy? Was it a journey of self-discovery? Was it the story of the emotional derailment of a woman à la “Bridesmaids”? In the end, it was a queer hodgepodge of all three, honing in on the film’s message that life was messy, and there’s never any clear path.
The movie overloaded a bit on “charming” indie music montages, giving much attention to many a lingering look or a carefree laugh. These montages, while beautifully filmed, were a departure from the messy realism of the film and often veered toward cliché.
The humor in the film is dry and witty, thanks to the writing talents of Jones and Will McCormack (“American Outlaws”). Jones and McCormack based the screenplay on their own relationship, and it shows. Much of the film seems to be a series of inside jokes between Celeste and Jesse, giving the audience a mere glimpse of how their close their relationship used to be. Both the humor and the relationships have a level of intimacy rarely seen in a romantic comedy.
Jones and Samberg are both better known for their comedic roles, but it’s refreshing to see them stretch their dramatic chops. Jones easily out-acted Samberg, who gave a heartbreaking but demure performance as Jesse. He doesn’t get to do much, as his character falls victim to a contrived plot device, inadvertently flattening his character. Samberg was sadly sidelined for most of the movie, but he does the best with what he gets.
Jones is the star of the film. As the co-writer and title character, it’s obviously a very personal performance. She is stunning in the film, balancing Celeste’s initial confidence and wry humor with her character’s later self-destructive behavior. Jones skillfully plays out Celeste’s flaws, avoiding the temptation to slip into stereotypical rom-com territory.
The supporting actors are impressive but forgettable, including co-writer McCormack, who plays Celeste and Jesse’s pothead friend. Chris Messina (“Ruby Sparks”) as Celeste’s potential love interest and Emma Roberts (“Scream 4”) as Celeste’s vapid pop star client make fun appearances with little screen time, but the supporting characters are honestly a little unremarkable. Elijah Wood (“Lord of the Rings”) is the only actor who transcends his role, stealing the scenes as Celeste’s gay boss who tries desperately to be as sassy as the stereotype permits.
“Celeste and Jesse Forever” is a delightful inversion of the romantic comedy, though it’s not as biting or challenging as other entries to the genre. It’s a charming and intimate film that invites audiences into the private lives of perfectly real and flawed people.