Directed by: Lee Toland Krieger
Premise: A couple (Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones) attempts to stay friends after their divorce but tensions arise when they see other people.
What Works: Celeste and Jesse Forever is part of a recent trend of films like Knocked Up, Friends with Kids, and No Strings Attached in which characters try to make sense of romantic relationships amid changing cultural norms. Among those films Celeste and Jesse Forever is one of the better examples. The focus of the story is on Celeste, played by Rashida Jones who also co-wrote the screenplay. According to the backstory, Celeste broke up with her husband because he was an oaf and the picture treads on the cliché of the career woman who needs to lighten up in order to find love but the film is better than that. Jesse, played by Andy Samberg, is lazy but when he discovers that a woman he has recently slept with is pregnant, he turns his life around. His self-improvement incites jealousy in his ex-wife, who does not understand why he didn’t change while they were still married. The film is a study of how friendship is integral to marriage while simultaneously distinct from it; it’s also about the time and space needed to let go after a break up. Celeste and Jesse Forever is a smart movie, written with an ear for dialogue and a savvy sense for the nebulous truths of human relationships and the way the script and the performers reveal what is beneath the surface of the characters and their relationship is very well done. Celeste and Jesse Forever manages to be funny, mostly in the banter between Samberg and Jones, but more than anything it is emotionally honest. These characters feel real in ways that players in romantic comedies usually do not; they have flaws and idiosyncrasies that distinguish them as individuals. Perhaps because she co-wrote the script, Rashida Jones comes off more interesting than Samberg’s character and she gives a very good performance, demonstrating abilities for physical comedy and wit but also dramatic chops. That is one of the places in which Celeste and Jesse Forever is most impressive; the movie has a delicate tone as it pushes and pulls between comedy and drama and the filmmakers find a very effective balance of those elements. It is funny but not so funny as to disrupt the dramatic sequences but in the heavier moment the actors resist the temptation to pour on the melodrama. The filmmakers also deserve credit for sticking to their premise. A lot of mainstream movies like this are forced into disingenuously happy endings. The conclusion of Celeste and Jesse Forever is not necessarily sad but it is subdued and authentic.
What Doesn’t: Celeste and Jesse Forever does have some significant flaws. The movie tends to meander in places, especially when it indulges some of the clichés of the genre. Scenes like the obligatory misunderstanding, the comfort-food montage, and a teary-eyed wedding speech are familiar from other movies. The filmmakers of Celeste and Jesse Forever handle these scenes well, generally keeping them brief and demonstrating self-consciousness with their familiarity and so they get away with it. Less successful are some of the subplots, namely Celeste’s unlikely friendship with a pop star played by Emma Roberts. This subplot adds very little to the movie and Roberts is never convincing in the role. Also, like Knocked Up and Friends with Kids, Celeste and Jesse Forever is another movie about upper class yuppies with first world problems. It presents those problems with more nuance than some other movies and television shows but it does capitulate to that trend.
DVD extras: Commentary tracks, featurettes, outtakes, deleted scenes, and trailers.
Bottom Line: Celeste and Jesse Forever is a better than average film. Despite some shortcomings in the plotting, the masterful tone and the central performances distinguish it from many other romantic comedies.
Episode: #427 (February 17, 2013)