Since I saw it at a press screening a few weeks ago, I’ve had a bit of a crush on Celeste and Jesse Forever. To say it’s likable would be a vast understatement, because it’s a movie that gets inside your heart—or more to the point, star and co-writer Rashida Jones does—and makes you really feel for its main character, a hip, high-strung, thirty-something Los Angelina shell-shocked when her husband (Andy Samberg), from whom she is separated yet remains best friends, decides to move on with his life.
When we first meet Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Samberg), we’re struck by their obvious, and somewhat bizarre, rapport—they speak in silly voices together, play act in public, finish each other’s sentences, intuit each other’s phone calls and even mock molest a tube of lip balm. Their chemistry is like a comedy act; a private in-joke. Yet it’s clear that Celeste wants more for him, and expects more of him.
We learn that the seemingly content couple are actually separated, yet still together, sort of—he lives in the studio in the rear of the home they once shared—a fact their sensible, engaged friends (Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen) can’t seem to digest. But while Celeste and Jesse may be lifelong best friends, their six-year marriage didn’t work—she went on to become a successful “trend forecaster” whose book, Shitegeist, rails against no-talent pop culture, the kind which her slick PR firm represents, including a spoiled Kesha-esque pop teen-queen (Emma Roberts). On the other hand, Jesse, a sweet yet unambitious artist, didn’t quite make it. Celeste was the breadwinner; Jesse, the resigned slacker.
Despite the urgings of her flamboyant boss (Elijah Wood) to start over, she’s perfectly content with Jesse, but after a night of accidental lovemaking, tensions arise. The bubble bursts when a Jesse delivers a coup de grace revelation that he has decided to grow up, finally—but with another woman. This drives the need for a formal divorce, and drives Celeste into a crisis. But if Jesse isn’t right for her, why does it bother her so much that he may be ‘the one’ for someone else?
Celeste, no longer with the upper hand, responds by throwing herself into dating and exercise and yoga, where she meets a nice guy (Chris Messina) that she’s just not ready for, and bonds with the spoiled pop star while trying to let go of Jesse, a very bitter pill. It doesn’t help that his new love (Rebecca Dayan) is lovely, smart, warm…and pregnant.
The screenplay, by Jones and Will McCormack, who also plays a doofus friend they both lean on, respects its characters and gives them real people to play, avoiding hijinks or broad comedy (though one slapstick pratfall gets a big laugh) in favor of subtle emotions as Celeste and Jesse test their abilities to be away from each other. They can’t live together and they can hardly be apart. It’s painful, and both Jones and Samberg, displaying considerable depth unseen in his SNL sketches, are worthy of our sentiments, a testament to the film’s complexity.
Good romantic comedies this summer have been in strong supply—Your Sister’s Sister, Safety Not Guaranteedand Ruby Sparks each featured interesting and original women and strong performances. Here, Jones takes it to another level, handing us what may be the most fully-rounded female character this year in American movies. Scene for scene we watch her with friends, at work, on dates, in private moments , pushing along in her job while her personal life falls apart.
The final shot is both sad and hopeful.
3 1/2 stars.