Celeste and Jesse are best friends that married a few years ago. They’re getting a divorce now — Celeste is a razor sharp trend predictor and the aimlessness of her aspiring artist husband was just maddening — but they still spend all their time together. Who better to soothe the trauma of a divorce than your best friend?
Celeste and Jesse Forever is an agreeable indie reverse rom-com — even the reverse rom-com conceit fades after a while — with an immensely likable cast. Rashida Jones, so good as Ann in Parks and Recreation, does equally fine work in the lead role here. Like Ann, Celeste is adept professionally but gawky on the dating scene. Jones, by the way, co-wrote the screenplay with Will McCormack (he appears briefly as a frustrated weed dealer). Lee Toland Krieger directs.
Andy Samberg, best known for his years on Saturday Night Live and his Digital Shorts (including the celebrated “Dick in a Box”), ditches his exaggerated comic personas and plays Jesse as an easygoing soul with a sharp intellect that makes it easier to navigate through life as an arrested adolescent. Marital breakup aside, he and Celeste make a credible pair — how can you fault a couple whose favorite joke is teaming up to “masturbate” a small tube of lip balm until it squirts?
Shortly into the film, Celeste and Jesse’s relationship is challenged by two of their friends, who contend that the couple is using their friendship to insulate themselves from the post-breakup rebuilding process. To placate various friends, they finally agree to start dating again and life gets rocky, especially for Celeste.
At first the movie tries to have its cake and eat it too, with director Krieger overreaching for indie cred with too much hand-held camera jerkiness, while the screenplay turns various rom-com mainstays upside down (one of Celeste’s work colleagues, played by Elijah Wood, fumbles while trying to deliver a sassy one-liner, part of his attempt to become Celeste’s quip-ready, advice-dispensing gay sidekick).
But the film also uses rom-com traditions like Starbucks compilation CD tunes for scene transitions and occasional sitcom bits (Celeste roots around in Jesse’s trash dumpster and drops her bracelet — oh my, who will soon pop up with his new girlfriend to catch Celeste in the act?)
Those who can roll with the rom-com/anti-rom-com head butting will be rewarded with a bittersweet comedy that focuses believably on the experience of rebuilding one’s life after a breakup. It’s a horrible thing to go through, but Celeste and Jesse Forever manages to present the pain while maintaining a breezy enough tone to keep the production from devolving into pathos. The film may be a bit slick beneath its indie wool cap, but the emotions are genuine, the laughs are plentiful, and Jones and Samberg make a winning team, before and after they start their respective rebuilding.