[This review was originally published as part of our coverage of the Sundance Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the film’s national release.]
Breaking up is hard, giving in to a fruitless relationship is easy, and moving into the shed outside your ex-wife’s house is pretty weird. This is where Celeste and Jesse stand at the start of their little adventure in indie comedy land (AKA a Los Angeles where no one pays rent). They are best friends, ex-lovers, and currently roommates. You can bet your ass that there will be some hissy-fits, somber bong rips, and awkward party crashing.
With an all-star class and a director with some indie cred (read: has a celebrated debut about a dysfunctional family), Celeste and Jesse Forever has a lot going for it. It just doesn’t go very far with it.
Celeste and Jesse Forever
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Release Date: August 3rd
With such a simple, goofy premise and a strong cast of friends and co-workers, Celeste and Jesse seems like prime material for an evening sitcom. Maybe I writer that because it didn’t make for a particularly memorable film. The conflict between the two actors is something that could be peppered into a comedy to had drama and variety, but here it’s poured into the pot, spoiling the fun these actors could be having if not held back by such uninspired indie fare.
Most likely, audiences will flock to the theaters for the main performers, Andy Samberg (of Lonely Island/Saturday Night Live fame)and Rashida Jones (The Office). They won’t be disappointed. They also won’t be particularly thrilled. The film focuses so much on the post-post-break-up doldrums that it rarely gives the two opportunities to make with the funny. The comedic moments between them are charming, as the actors have a easiness that makes their ambiguous friendship believable. Celeste and Jesse have a special kind of friendship that is formed by a special kind of humor, and it’s a joy to see them interact.
Jesse is a fun lovin’ slacker who isn’t so different from Andy Samberg’s public persona, calling things “dope” and making dramatic facial gestures for comedic effect. It’s never clear what he does, but it’s easy to see why Celeste fell for him: Andy — err, I mean Jesse — is a funny dude with a ginormous chin. The same can be said for Celeste (not the chin part), though she has an active career that is prominently featured within the plot. When she isn’t putting up with Jesse’s childish antics or going to yoga, she is a trend newscaster for a PR firm. After putting out her mildly successful Shitegeist, she is moving up in her career while Jesse remains firmly in place.
The scenes at her day job aren’t particularly interesting and feel mostly like filler. From her sassy and gay Elijah Wood for a boss to her Lady Gaga-like client Riley (Emma Roberts), the characters that surround her day job feel under-developed and not very amusing. They are their to move the plot forward and give the audience a couple laughs. Wood could easily be mistaken for Neil Patrick Harris in his mannerisms and love of singing; it’s weird to see him play this character, but he pulls it off. The same can’t be said for Emma Roberts who seems miscast, not that anyone could make that character intersting without a script rewrite first.
The see-saw dynamics of Celeste and Jesse’s relationship never have any stakes involved. The film starts with them being friends and we like that, so what do we care if they are the type of friends that go to sleep together at night? It’s a cute setup that gives Jones some humorous pity-party moments reminiscent of last year’s Young Adult and Bridesmaids, but the drama morphs the film into a pedestrian indie mopefest arrested in development. The film is at it’s best when the drama ushers in character development that lets us explore some new places, characters, and jokes with Celeste (whom the film primarily follows).
Seeing Celeste go from outgoing journalist to a cheese-puff-eating stoner that could put Snoop Dogg to shame is pretty funny, mainly because Rashida Jones makes it funny. Once the jokes die down and we have to see Celeste make the predictable romantic-comedy character steps, it reminds us that we’re not seeing the movie we thought we were. We’re just seeing a mix of indie drama cliches mixed with a Los Anglese star-filled comedy. It’s a shame because both Samberg and Jones prove themselves capable of being endearing comedic leads, but they have the spotlight stollen from them in the end for the sake of dull, cliche indie relationship drama.
Sometimes we don’t need petty drama to go along with our weed and dick jokes.
Alex Katz: As a man that married my best friend at a pretty young age, Celeste and Jesse Forever hit me really, really hard. It helps that it’s got a hell of a powerhouse cast with Rashida Jones and a startlingly-competent Andy Samberg as the two titular characters. There’s a certain amount of authenticity here, with the weird ups and downs of ending a relationship neither party really wants to end, even if it’s for the best for all involve. It’s an interesting notion that works most of the time, though it occasionally falters. There’s a subplot involving a client of Celeste’s that could be largely axed without problems (as it really just gives Celeste something funny to do with a CRAZY DIVA POPSTAR GIRL), and it suffers from that third-act drag a lot of romantic comedies fall into, but overall, it’s a very enjoyable, exciting effort, and I’m hoping Rashida Jones and her writing partner Will McCormick have more for us. 75- Good