Review: ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever’

Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg in “Celeste and Jesse Forever.”

Rashida Jones has been on the map for a while now. She was the woman keeping Jim and Pam apart during season three of The Office. Then she became a regular and favorite on another NBC comedy, Parks and Recreation. She was also well-received in her supporting role in 2009’s I Love You, Man.

Now, after a couple years of paying her dues, Jones is starring in her own film, Celeste and Jesse Forever. The film is quite literally her own, as she co-wrote it. I’m not sure if she was being denied the chance at other starring roles in Hollywood, but her work in Celeste and Jesse Forever declares Jones as an actress to take seriously despite her comedic chops.

Alongside her in this indie dramedy is another actor with a small role in I Love You, ManSNL‘s Andy Samberg. Well, formerly SNL‘s. He’s moving on too, and maybe had even more to prove with this serious role than Jones did.

Celeste and Jesse Forever is a story of the perfect couple, except that they’re the perfect ex-couple. Together since high school and then married for six years, Celeste and Jesse are best friends. She’s a Type A trend forecaster and he’s a slacker artist. Their adult lives were diverging, and Celeste decided she “wanted the father of her children to have a car,” so she called it quits.

But did she really? Jesse lives in the backyard studio of Celeste’s LA home. They still hang out all the time, they still do their humorous bits, they still say I love you. They are completely incapable of letting go, so they resolve to have the best break up of all time.

Their arrangement is going pretty well–Celeste powers through her career and Jesse plays along with her request to break up, convinced she’ll snap out of it soon enough. Except she doesn’t, and an unfortunate slip-up forces them to revaluate the effectiveness of their perfect break up.

There is a surprise to Celeste and Jesse Forever that the trailer doesn’t give away. I won’t spoil it, because it’s a genuine surprise early in the film that makes the whole thing a lot deeper and more complicated than you expect.

Jones doesn’t want this film to be your typical romantic comedy. She aims for reality, trying to defy convention. She successfully breathes life into Celeste while staying true to her flaws. There is no sign of Celeste letting go–no push from the film to get her to be less “Type A.” The film is her journey, but it’s not a journey toward self-discovery; it’s a journey to figure out how to live with the self she has already discovered.

There is a slight problem with making the film all about Celeste: that leaves out the and Jesse Forever. Andy Samberg is genuinely good here–proving acting ability far beyond what he has demonstrated previously. He gives Jesse a vulnerability and depth that you wouldn’t expect from Samberg or his man-child character. In my opinion, he’s not given enough material. You only get to see Jesse through Celeste, and thus one character is shoved to the side to favor the other. Although I guess this is Jones’s movie.

The sad moments here are so good, so aching, that the film twice brought me to tears (I can’t remember the last time that happened). More than anything, it wants to be real. Perhaps in a struggle for that goal, Celeste and Jesse Forever loses focus right before its ending, getting jumbled and abrupt.

Still, that final scene is good and true to its story. Jones and Samberg don’t disappoint, and neither does this film.

Verdict: B+

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