Celeste (Rashida Jones) is the owner of a media market firm in Los Angeles, but given the recent publication of her nonfiction book about the direction American pop culture has headed, she prefers to think of herself as a trend forecaster. Jesse (Andy Samberg) has artistic talent but is currently unemployed and seems rather indifferent about finding a new job. High school sweethearts who tied the knot, they have been separated for six months and are in the final stages of divorcing. That hasn’t stopped them from remaining the best of friends; they still go to restaurants, sing in harmony with the radio, mime hugs for each other by crossing their arms and cupping their hands, and perpetuate a game where they pretend that a tube of petroleum jelly is a tiny penis. Although Jesse has moved out of the main house, he lives in his studio located on the same property, which Celeste doesn’t seem to mind. They even say that they love each other.
Much like the recently released Lola Versus, Celeste and Jesse Forever takes a fairly standard romantic comedy concept and fine tunes it for more indie-minded audiences. This is not to suggest that the plotting or characterizations are any less manufactured; it simply means that the film is overall quirkier, subtler, and not as easily attracted to the idea of a fairytale ending. I liked the title characters, although for most of the film, I struggled to empathize with them, in large part because they persisted in being so caviler about their feelings for each other. Although Celeste is a right fighter and control freak, and although Jesse has the emotional maturity of a five-year-old, they’re both in denial about the reality of the separation and lack the courage to admit that they really do belong together.
Fortunately, the final scenes helped to reshape some of my perceptions. Essentially, the film is a cautionary tale of not taking relationships for granted. For Celeste, it’s a journey towards relinquishing control and accepting the mistakes she has made. For Jesse, it’s about realizing that he has made his bed and now has to lay in it. Both changes come about as the result of a plot twist that actually hasn’t been given away in the ad campaign. The publicity department at Sony Pictures Classics deserves a lot of credit here; we live in an age when trailers and TV spots will either hint too strongly at a crucial plot point or altogether spoil it, a reality audiences don’t seem to care about anymore. I’m going to follow Sony’s lead and keep my mouth shut. Should you decide to go see this film, you deserve to actually be surprised.
What I can say is that the other people in Celeste and Jesse’s life seem genuinely bothered by their current arrangement. Jesse’s potheaded best friend, for example, is too focused on the opposite sex and too under the influence to say anything of value, which should tell you a thing or two about how he copes with life in general. Celeste’s best friend, Beth (Ari Graynor), seems downright devastated by everything, perhaps because she’s currently engaged and fears her marriage may someday end up like Celeste and Jesse’s. Celeste is fairly close with her gay co-worker, Scott (Elijah Wood), and repeatedly runs the developing situation by him for his two cents. He’s probably the most levelheaded character in the entire film, although he isn’t saying what the audience is already thinking.
Celeste will make a surprising emotional connection with a spoiled teen pop star named Riley Banks (Emma Roberts), who goes to Celeste’s company in order have her newest album marketed for today’s audiences. To reveal the hilarious mistake made in the logo design would be doing you a great disservice; here is a visual gag that comes out of nowhere and, in the best possible sense, throws the audience for a loop. Suffice it to say, the personality clash is palpable, and the two initially want nothing to do with each other. This is not a simple case of Celeste eventually discovering the “real” Riley Banks; it’s more a matter of Celeste coming to terms with who Riley is and realizing that even a young woman packaged and sold within an inch of her life can have her heart broken.
Another important subplot involves a man named Paul (Chris Messina), who intentionally signs himself up for yoga classes to meet women. He uses that method to enter Celeste’s life, and although she initially resists him, romcom logic dictates that the two will eventually start dating. What’s not made explicitly clear is whether or not they will end up together; he’s a decent enough guy, although the situation with Jesse, who’s always so passive about everything, will repeatedly complicate matters. I’ve given passing grades to numerous romantic comedies, but it’s always refreshing when filmmakers go for something unconventional. Celeste and Jesse Forever not only stars Rashida Jones but was also co-written by her, which proves surprisingly beneficial to the story. Who better to capture the essence of a character than the woman who contributed to her very creation?