Title: Celeste and Jesse Forever
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Starring: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Will McCormack, Chris Messina, Emma Roberts, Ari Graynor, Elijah Wood, Eric Christian Olsen, Rebecca Dayan
A somewhat sloppy collection of relationship bits and shrewdly observed comedy of gender differences, the Los Angeles-based “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” which made its bow at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, marks the screenwriting and leading lady debut of Rashida Jones. A rom-com push that coasts along on the accrued goodwill of its game cast, this low-fi offering is built for the self-identifying embrace of mostly urban indie fans, but marked by a blend of sarcasm and end-game sincerity and life lessons that will strike other viewers as too cloying and calculated by half.
Celeste (Jones) is very career driven, the owner of her own media consulting firm, and the trend-analyzing author of pop culture book “Shitgeist.” Her best friend and husband Jesse, however, is less occupationally inclined. In their 30s, the couple has drifted apart — but only to a degree. Though they’re getting divorced, they still live together in a synchronized domestic routine. Their friends (Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen) find this strange, and off-putting, but Celeste and Jesse swear that it works.
Until, of course, it becomes manifestly apparent that it doesn’t. When Jesse breaks the difficult news that he’s gotten another girl (Rebecca Dayan) pregnant, it freaks Celeste out, and forces her to reconsider a decision that she previously found mature and progressive. Are she and Jesse meant to be together, or have they truly outgrown their relationship?
Jones got her start on “The Office,” of course, and has comedic instincts that transition smoothly to be the big screen, without coming off as too telegraphed and sitcom-y, as if playing to an invisible audience. While Samberg is the more well known comedic performer, his presence is a bit of a head feint, for a good bit of the movie’s best comedy is actually bound up in Celeste-as-hot-mess shenanigans, as with Zooey Deschanel in “The New Girl.” Jones is a radiant and engaging screen presence, and quite capable with this material.
“Celeste and Jesse” bogs down a bit when it shifts its focus away from the mechanics of its relationship dynamics, and tries to fold in life lessons for its lead character by way of Celeste’s professional acceptance of a troubled pop star (Emma Roberts). This and the film’s other shortcomings, however, are mitigated by the fact that Jones is such a spry and immensely likable performer, as well as the fact that she and co-writer Will McCormack have such great ears for pithy dialogue. It’s a credit to their script that even if the trajectory of its fractured romance feels a bit choppy, the characterizations remain recognizably knowable, and more or less worthy of empathetic investment.
Written by: Brent Simon