Celeste and Jesse Forever
The title of “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” starring Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones, is quickly revealed as ironic. Although the film opens with a montage of their courtship, wedding, and the first happy years of marriage, we quickly discover that after six years they are separated. Out-of-work artist Jesse is living in the studio/bungalow behind their house while published author, p.r. representative, and talk-show guest Celeste lives in the residence. They have kept alive their friendship, if not their marriage, so neither of them seems to be in a hurry to complete the divorce.
This unconventional arrangement hits a snag when Jesse starts to date, having been encouraged to do by his friend/drug dealer Skillz (Will McCormack, co-author with Jones of the screenplay.) Though she initially claims she’s pleased for Jess, Celeste is clearly pained by the thought of his beginning a life without her. Their about-to-be married friends, Beth (Ari Graynor) and Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen), think that their staying together though separated is deeply weird. Like, if this “perfect marriage” goes sour, what does that say about their own?
In short, the script turns the formula for romantic comedy upside down. Oh, it does include a marriage, music, and the promise of birth at the end; however, it also features tears and heartbreak when things change suddenly and drastically. If the title is, finally, not fully ironic, we sense the cost of severing longtime ties, the residual longing between ex-lovers who still love each other.
Director Lee Toland Krieger pulls excellent performances out of his two lead actors, especially Jones, whose character dominates the latter half of the action. Both she and Samberg are best known for their roles in TV comedies, and their comic flair is evident throughout, particularly in their witty exchanges with each other. But the movie’s effectiveness hinges on their demonstrated ability to reveal the characters’ layers of pain without over-emoting.
They are nicely set off by a solid supporting cast of young actors. The best-known is doubtless Elijah Wood, whose career took off when he won the role of Frodo Baggins in the “Lord of the Rings” series. Cast here as Celeste’s business partner and self-described “witty gay friend,” Wood brings some depth to what could be a cliché. I also liked Chris Messina as Paul, a financial analyst who goes to yoga classes to meet girls but strikes out, initially, with Celeste, who deftly skewers him when he hits on her. Happily for them (and the audience), the two reconnect and begin and on-again, off-again, and (maybe) on again relationship. If the movie’s ending is decidedly muted, it’s still happy.
“Celeste and Jesse Forever” deals realistically with the lives of thirty-somethings making their way in the unreal world of Los Angeles. Native Californians Jones and Samberg know the curious tics of the natives, which are gently satirized here. Replete with F-bombs and “sexual situations,” the film is appropriately rated “R.” Older folk who are easily shocked will be so, early and often. But anyone looking for an appealing, unconventional take on that most conventional of forms should enjoy this slightly skewed romantic comedy.