Film Review – Celeste and Jesse Forever
How to move on and grow after a divorce can be a difficult task. For some it can be so hard that they resist changing anything at all. That’s where the two title characters are at the beginning of Celeste and Jesse Forever.
As the film starts, Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg playing the couple in question have been separated for 6 months. They got married quite young, fought all the time, and decided that splitting up was best. But they are still best friends. They spend all of their time together, to the point that they still live on the same property (just in different sections of it). Their friends find it weird. And with both parties engaged in a willing blindness to how this arrangement might be detrimental, neither one has been able to move on. Egged on by his pot-dealing buddy (Will McCormack), Jesse decides to take the first dating plunge out in the world. A major life event then quickly occurs that forces Celeste to evaluate what she’s been doing, as well.
Jones co-wrote this movie with McCormack, and smartly, she gets most of the screen time of the two leads. While this is definitely the best movie that Samberg’s been a part of, he isn’t a full fledged “actor” yet. Funny, yes. Engaging, sure. But he doesn’t seem to have a full range of emotions in his arsenal yet. However, as an underachieving would-be artist who cries at old videotapes of Olympic weight lifting competitions while eating cereal, Samberg is convincing. He’s found a role of which he’s capable.
Meanwhile, Jones, definitely the better actor, garners the lion’s share of attention. She’s smart, smug at times, and genuinely trying to figure herself out. In fact, that’s a great word to describe most of this movie, genuine. These feel like real characters with real lives. Celeste tries in fits and starts to date again. She quickly learns the guys she thinks are worthwhile sometimes aren’t (one particular episode with a smart, handsome photojournalist ends quite embarrassingly), while one potential man she meets at yoga who she tries to dismiss as just another collection of clichés turns out to have more depth than she initially thought.
While this is a mostly believable, thoughtful film, there are a couple of minor complaints. Yes, this is the kind of movie where the characters have careers that are far more interesting than most people have in real life. Jesse, while an out-of-work slacker, of course has to be a talented artist who just needs his big gallery break. Celeste, having just written a successful book about trend-spotting, works at a PR consulting firm. In this setting, she is assigned to work on a campaign for a teenage pop music diva played by Emma Roberts. But even this episode helps to point out Celeste’s fatal flaw of pre-judging people and feeling superior. The teeny-bopper character proves to be much more than the one-dimensional brat she initially seems.
Also, there is some dialogue at the very beginning that feels a little too clunky and expository. You know, the kind of scene where someone says what other characters have been doing for months and defines their current opinions all in one sentence. But the script gets over that pretty quickly, settling into a nice groove that doesn’t strain credulity.
For late August, in what is usually the dumping ground of mediocrity for summer releases, Celeste and Jesse Forever is a small gem. It has adults acting somewhat adult. What usually gets dismissed in other movies by a line like “I need to sort some stuff out” is actually the focus of this story. These people are actually working on themselves. Rashida Jones is engaging in her role. And the end, it doesn’t feel like a cop-out at all. This is a modest comedy that might find it’s way onto some best of lists at the end of the year. Recommended.