Celeste and Jesse Forever is built on an impossible dream. A break-up where the two participants remain the best of friends and go about all the usual social functions of a relationship except for the really coupley stuff like sleeping together and arguing.
The dreamers in question, Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg), were together for over six years and at Celeste’s request opt to separate. Jesse moves out to the pool house but despite this, they still spend every spare moment with each other, much to the bemusement of their friends. Cracks quickly start to form as the stress of not being together becomes as much of a burden as the strains which originally broke up their marriage. Things completely unravel when they start dating other people, with neither party really able to start afresh with someone new while still remaining friends with their ex.
Jones co-wrote the script and does OK, but is really on top of her game in front of the camera. She plays a self-assured “cultural trend predictor” who recently published a book with the delightful name of “Shitegeist”. Jones’ interplay with everyone’s favourite hobbit Elijah Wood who plays her gay publishing partner is great and once again makes us yearn for more Elijah. “Quincy Jones’ daughter” has really been on the cusp of a break-through for some time now with numerous strong supporting roles in work as varied as The Social Network and NBC’s Thursday-night fixture Parks and Recreation but perhaps this film will open her up to followers of independent American cinema.
Samberg recently left Saturday Night Live after eight years and so his summer double-bill of That’s My Boy and Celeste and Jesse Forever was always going to be an interesting marker for where his future lies in Hollywood. It’s regretful to say that he’s not really at home in the more emotionally-demanding scenes just yet and despite great chemistry with Jones, his lack of range is repeatedly exposed. I’m not saying he needs to do more movies with Adam Sandler (please god no), but he’ll need a lot of hard work and a little luck to end up with a future akin to someone like Seth Rogen, as this is not a Knocked Up-style game-changer for him.
While there’s plenty of laughs, the most unsettling thing about the film is just how disjointed it is. Supporting characters and narrative threads come and go without explanation and the film repeatedly pulls the viewer in different directions, which wouldn’t usually be a complaint but there are just too many switcheroos to keep a count of. Nobody likes when we’re stuck with the conventional “together, not together, together” formula favoured by many American rom-coms (most recently in The Five-Year Engagement), but you can’t just have a couple arguing one moment and then bezzies the next without any logic or direction.
In short Celeste and Jesse Forever is as frustrating as it is compelling, but the central idea of a best friend evolving into a lover and vice versa is sure to resonate with lots of dreamers. Kudos to all involved for not following the rulebook and attempting something new, it’s just a pity that it all got a little jumbled in the process.
USA / Directed By: Lee Toland Krieger / Written By: Rashida Jones, Will McCormack / Starring: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood, Will McCormack, Emma Roberts / 91min / Comedy, Drama, Romance / Release: 3rd August 2012 (US/Canada)