Celeste & Jesse Forever

comedy-drama, rated R
2 chiles

Celeste and Jesse have been married for six years, but their lives have drifted in different directions. Celeste, played by Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation, The Office) is a trend forecaster for a high-powered marketing firm and the author of a new book, “Sheitgeist.” Jesse (Andy Samberg of Saturday Night Live) is a freelance graphic designer who is just ... drifting. He is late with work even when the client is his wife, but he’s adorable and understanding, which may be why the two still spend most of their time together, even though they’re legally separated. They might have been a great couple once, but the very inside jokes they share and the cutesy voice routines they do upset their friends, who can no longer stand spending time with them.

The cast, which also features Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts, Eric Christian Olsen, Ari Graynor, and Will McCormack, is charming, and some of the writing is good, but in trying for a naturalistic representation of life’s fits and starts, Celeste & Jesse Forever fails by having far too many storylines and characters to give any of them due attention—and the primary storyline grates as the movie wears on. Will Celeste and Jesse stay together or get a divorce? How many times can they miss each other terribly and have second thoughts? Does it matter that I stopped caring before these questions were answered? The side stories are more interesting, especially the one featuring Celeste’s career. She has an antagonistic relationship with a young pop star (Roberts) that evolves into something unique and even nurturing— including a pivotal moment of change for Celeste's character—but it’s treated as a comical anecdote and given far too little screen time and development. Celeste’s friendly rapport with an underling (Wood) attempts to subvert the romantic-comic stereotype of the gay best friend but only serves up some uncomfortable dialogue that goes nowhere, and there’s a sense that maybe a storyline involving Wood’s character was cut out of the film to give more time to Celeste and Jesse’s endless back and forth as they attempt to form new romantic partnerships.

It’s sort of painful not to love this film, because I have such affection for Jones, who co-wrote the screenplay with McCormack. McCormack, the younger brother of In Plain Sight star Mary McCormack, might be best known locally for playing the neurotic, dead-eyed FBI agent with a vendetta against his sister’s character on the Albuquerque-based show. He shows off his range here by playing a 30-something pot dealer named Skillz, who is the comic relief in every scene he appears in and the voice of reason, propelling change when Celeste or Jesse need it. Jones, who plays smart well, spreads her wings outside of the land of situation comedy and pulls off a very natural performance—but the motivations and behavior she, as the writer, gave her own character aren’t always believable. In general, the tone of the movie is uneven. Sometimes it’s slapstick, like when Celeste winds up head first in a garbage can just as Jesse and his new love arrive. Sometimes it’s funny in a gritty, neo-feminist way, as when Celeste goes out on a series of blind dates that go excruciatingly wrong. Celeste’s downward spiral—during which she smokes and drinks too much and begins leaving the house in sweat pants and oversized cardigan sweaters—feels trite, typical of a certain kind of chick-flick idea of what depression looks like. Her job doesn’t always feel authentic—it seems like an actor’s idea of what a regular person might do with her life—and a condescending emphasis on yoga, vegan diets, and natural healing will probably fall flat on Santa Fe audiences, since the entire topic is treated as a silly trend rather than anything that could possibly be based in real belief or practice. (The concept of a “yoga practice” is one of the movie’s biggest jokes.)

Celeste & Jesse Forever is not a terrible film, but it’s not all that good, either. There are several laugh-out-loud moments but no gut-busters, and there are no heart-rending scenes that will bring you to a greater understanding of love in our times or even truth between two people. In fact, the moments of deep connection between Celeste and Jesse are symbolized by a joke about tiny penises that rings so false and awkward that it’s embarrassing. The 92-minute running time felt far longer than it was, and by the last half hour, I was wishing I could re-edit the movie just to see what was left and what could be improved upon. Celeste & Jesse Forever might have been better executed as several movies, or as a multi-perspective novel, because as it is, this film simply squanders its own potential. 


This review originally appeared in Pasatiempo on 08/31/2012