Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) have been friends since high school and are the perfect married couple. They have the same sense of humor, love to hang out with each other, and understand one another perfectly. All of this is why their friends can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that the two are separated–and have been for several months. When Jesse decides to actually start to move on with his life, Celeste finds that it’s much harder than she anticipated to let go.
Written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormick (and based on their own short-lived relationship), Celeste and Jesse Forever aims to be a romantic comedy-dramedy that subverts the traditional movies of the genre. The problem is that the film can’t quite decide what it is. This is a movie that doesn’t rock the boat of the genre so much as tap at the side of it ineffectually. What results is an uneven, largely disappointing movie that leaves viewers wanting more depth.
It isn’t that the film doesn’t get anything right, because it certainly does. Perhaps the film’s strongest moments are between Jesse and Celeste themselves, played convincingly by Jones and Samberg (who surprises here with more appeal than anything viewers have ever seen him do on SNL or in an Adam Sandler movie). The two share the same sense of humor which is more awkward than actually funny, but that’s kind of the point: both are stunted by their shared intimacy.
Much of the credit should be given to director Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind), who manages to coax a great deal of warmth from many of the characters. Krieger helps both Celeste and Jesse become appealing characters while allowing the audience to see their flaws. The supporting characters, including McCormick as a very funny drug dealer and Emma Watson as a spoiled pop star, are allowed to be fleshed out enough that viewers care about them—at least a little.
More problematic, however, is Toland’s propensity to rely on handheld camera work and extreme close-ups to convey intimacy. It weakens the film as a whole, and helps to further illuminate the fact that the film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Too often, a beautiful shot (like one of Jones standing outside a wedding tent, smoking and drinking against a gorgeous night sky) is undercut by sophomoric gags (bong hits, anyone?).
However, the movie’s weakest point is the fact that too much of it feels like cliché, contrived situations. Virtually every event and reaction feels inauthentic. After a while, it begins to seem as though everything that is happening in the film is happening not because of real moments but because these moments are going to bring about another situation. That, perhaps, is the most disappointing part of this entire endeavor: it comes close to getting it right but always falls short.
Still, the film leaves itself open to some good discussions. My viewing partner quipped afterward, “That was a really good iPhone commercial,” and while he was right, I’m convinced there are some things present in the movie worth talking about. I’d rent this one, though, and not spend the money to see it in the theater.
Celeste and Jesse Forever is out now.