A film review by Craig J. Koban October 4, 2012


2012, R, 91 mins.


Celeste: Rashida Jones / Jesse: Andy Samberg / Beth: Ari Graynor / Tucker: Eric Christian Olsen / Scott: Elijah Wood / Skillz: Will McCormack

Directed by Lee Toland Krieger / Written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack

Most romantic comedies have prescribed formulas that go through the motions with such an excruciating banality and predictability that they might as well have been the product of an off-the-shelf computer screenwriter program.  You get the standard-issue male and female characters that have the obligatory meet-cute, then get-together, followed by their blossoming love and then further followed by some obstacle that gets in the way of their happiness that’s unavoidably dealt with and rectified before the end credits roll by.  

Instead of showcasing a young and likeable couple of twentysomethings hook up and fall in love, CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER does something decidedly more novel and compelling with its romcom material: It opens with a montage of how Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jess (Andy Samberg) met, dated, fell head over heels for each other, married…and then… mutually separated and currently head towards a divorce. 

Huh?  Say what? 

This is all relayed to the audience within the film’s first few minutes, which establishes CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER as a romcom – somewhat like (500) DAYS OF SUMMER – that seeks to radically deconstruct the nature of how romcoms are executed.  Much as is the case with life, the film seems to perceptively understand that happiness and love sometimes does not actually conquer every type of complication that arises in a relationship or marriage.  Sometimes, differences and conflict lead to heart-crushing break-up.  By showing a relationship that is terminated at the very beginning of a romcom, CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER turns viewers’ expectations for this inherent material upside down on their heads.  As a result, we are really not sure where this story is headed, which is initially very liberating.   



After meeting in high school and then falling in love, Celeste and Jesse seemed destined to be lifelong soul mates.  Alas, after a few years of marriage, they have decided to end it, but they both mutually decide to be BFFs in the process, which perhaps is hopeless naiveté on their part: people that “love” each other and want to spend every waking moment with one another should…well…just be together….right?  At least that’s what Celeste and Jesse’s best friends  - Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen) and Beth (Ari Graynor) - think.  They seem completely bewildered and weirded the hell out by the constant chumminess of their formerly married friends.  They just find it creepy that two people that are on the verge of signing divorce papers seem so damn happy to be together all the time. 

Sooooo…why did these two people reach splitsville?  On a negative, the film struggles to find a cogent rationale other than the notion that Celeste – as a career minded trend analyst and author – seems resentful of Jesse’s underachieving attitude and lack of occupational growth as a painter.  Nonetheless, both seem satisfied with the current relationship status quo that non-platonic love has all by died between them.  However, when Jesse decides to final get back on the dating saddle and starts to see an old flame, Veronica (Rebecca Dayan), it discretely bothers Celeste at first.  When Jesse reveals an unexpected piece of news regarding his increasingly intimate bond with Veronica, it sends Celeste into a whirlwind of conflicting emotions.  She begins to realize that she still pines after and loves Jesse, even though he has decided to essentially move on. 

One of the limitless joys of CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER is to see its stars Jones and Samberg create such tangible chemistry on-screen together; there’s never a moment where you don’t doubt the authenticity of their on-screen relationship and history.  The casting of the two is engagingly novel: Jones and Samberg are not boundlessly gorgeous people, per se, that seem to occupy most high profile romcoms.  They are naturally good-looking people that are also affable and good-natured, but they also have flaws and make categorical mistakes that are often hard to forgive.  When the screenplay – written by Jones and Will McCormack (who also appears in the film as a fun-loving friend and pot dealer) – wallows in some silly story mechanizations, Jones and Samberg keep the proceedings emotionally grounded by making their characters feel believably conflicted, confused, and troubled by the oddity of their relationship past and present. 

And, seriously…why isn’t Rashida Jones a fully-fledged star and leading lady by now?  If anything, CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER is a rallying cry for audiences and critics to not only take the actress as a bona fide dramatic and comedic talent, but also to highlight her as a performer that’s not afraid to throw her vanity and ego out the window for a role.  When so many witless and contrived romcoms go out of their way to make the female protagonists agreeable to the point of ad naeseam, Jones’ screenplay and performance paints Celeste in less broad strokes.  She is both a considerate soul that, when she allows herself, is capable of egregious meanness towards Jesse that perhaps masks her own insecurities about herself.  I liked how messed up Celeste is in the film, especially considering that it’s far too often the men in romcoms that have to accept their mistakes, deal with them, and then grow as individuals to earn the love and respect of a woman.  Samberg’s sly and deceptive performance as Jesse also helps in this regard; considering that this is the same comedian from SNL and HOT ROD, I was frankly astonished at the nuanced and understated performance he gives here. 

Not all of CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER works.  There is a subplot involving Celeste dealing with a pop star client (Emma Roberts) that seems superfluous and really goes nowhere, not to mention that Elijah Wood shows up as the prototypical advice-dispensing gay co-worker/friend that always seems to be the voice of reason for Celeste.  Also, Chris Messina’s role as a potential suitor to fill the void in Celeste’s life seems woefully underdeveloped.  There are also times when the film cries out to be a transgressively anti-romantic comedy and then allows itself to become ensnared in the same type of artificial contrivances that befall many similar genre films.  Yet, there’s ample and sometimes painful honesty in CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER that separates it far apart from other insipid, TV-sitcom worthy romcoms, not to mention that Rashida Jones and Adam Samberg create two fully developed melancholic souls that don’t start out the film as friends and then end happily ever after as lovers; that’s the road-most-traveled-approach for this genre.  No, CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER seems more taken in with whether a former couple can remains friends after a break-up by the film’s conclusion, which is a vastly more intriguing premise for a romcom...wouldn't you say? 

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