Entertainment » Movies

Celeste And Jesse Forever

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Aug 3, 2012
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Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star in "Celeste and Jesse Forever"
Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star in "Celeste and Jesse Forever"  (Source:Sony Pictures Classics)

What do you do when your soulmate and best friend is poor spourse material and your "happily ever after" is going nowhere?

Celeste and Jesse Forever starts with that question and then, rung by rung, makes its way through the possibilities. This is a rom-com with a determination to be mature rather than sugary; it’s not at all obvious where the film, co-written by star Rashida Jones ("Our Idiot Brother," "The Social Network") is headed, be it the territory of eventual reconciliation familiar from movies like "The Awful Truth," or the blue sky of ways truly destined to part.

This is a movie determined to challenge expectations from the start. Celeste (Jones) and husband Jesse ("Saturday Night Live"’s Andy Samberg) canoodle, giggle, and engage in the kind of banter that happy couples engage in, all of which would be fine if they weren’t in the middle of a divorce. The disconnect freaks out their friends, but makes perfect sense to the two of them; they see their ongoing relationship as a mark of sophistication. They can split up without tearing each other apart.

The problem is one of ambition. Jesse is an artist, which seems to mean that he drifts through life, bag of corn chips in one hand and television remote in the other, more concerned with surf conditions than career prospects. Celeste, on the other hand, is a type-A personality, driven to succeed: She’s founded her own company (with gay buddy Scott, played by Elijah Wood), written a book, and started in on the TV and newspaper circuit with commentary and sound bites as a "trend forecaster."

She’s also scary smart: At one point, Celeste dissects a potential suitor with a display of ratiocination worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Evidently, it’s not just Jesse, but people in general, and especially popular culture, that gets on her nerves; no wonder things haven’t worked out at home. As she’s striving to make a name for herself, Celeste has come to see Jesse’s laid-back style as a waste of time. "I love Jesse," she tells best friend Beth (Ari Graynor), "but he doesn’t have a checking account... The father of my children will have a car!"

Here’s where the film runs into some problems. While the story leads to unexpected places, there’s a heavy dose of gender cliché that clings to the movie like a push-up bra.

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" may twist and pivot, refusing to be predictable in its course, but its tropes are all too familiar: Jesse clearly would rather not be breaking up, but he honors Celeste’s wishes. Meanwhile, as soon as Celeste has given up on Jesse, she slowly comes to realize how hasty she’s been.

Rather than simply sit down to dinner and talking it through with her ex, however, Celeste starts buying weed from dealer friend Skillz (Will McCormack, the film’s other writer) and making one catastrophic mistake after the next with a new client, pop star sensation Riley (Emma Roberts).

By the time we reach a point in which Celeste is pawing through Jesse’s garbage, the movie has dropped from a sophisticated take on modern love into the kind of crude caricature that Celeste despises. By the time the film limps to the finish line, what should have been fresh and surprising comes across as a chastened attempt to regain its dignity. The end result is an only slightly better-than-average rom-com.

Adding to the film’s lack of focus are a series of bewildering dips into stereotype and a handful of unlikely, too-neat resolutions. A perfect example of both is a fracas involving a suggestive logo that turns into a new marketing ploy targeting the big gay audience; the suggestion is that anything suggesting anal sex gets gay men to purchase it.

The end result is a grab-bag of an edgy, refined concept brought down by irritatingly facile characters and plot twists. One can almost imagine the meetings in which the studio suits smoothed out and dumbed down what could have been a tough, rough and even slightly rude package.

Still, the film lives up to its title: Whatever these two may need to do in order to get where they are headed, they’re going to get there, and they’re going to have each others’ backs. That in itself qualifies as a happy ending.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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