Like the couple in its title, “Celeste and Jesse Forever” can’t quite make up its mind. Is it a broad, quirky comedy (which it’s pretty good at)? Or is it a serious and grounded relationship drama (which it’s also pretty good at)? The problem is that director Lee Toland Krieger comes up short when trying to put the two pieces together. There are movies that blend comedy and drama very well, but this isn’t one of them. The result is an enjoyable and thoughtful, but rather disjointed portrait of a couple who can’t move on from each other after a break-up.
Rashida Jones is terrific as Celeste and easily outshines Andy Samberg as Jesse. The two are introduced being disgustingly cutesy and inside-joke-ridden, so it’s a genuine surprise when the bombshell is dropped that they are actually separated and heading towards divorce, and what we’ve just witnessed are not flashbacks to happier times, but just the way they are, post-breakup. Having been best friends since they were young, the two see nothing wrong with how close they remain, though it weirds their friends – Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen – out, and probably rightly so.
Celeste is clearly the instigator of the break-up, as she looks down upon Jesse’s unemployed man-child tendencies, so it’s a shock to her system when he impregnates a new girl, wants to make it work with her, and begins to grow up right before Celeste’s eyes – after he’s no longer hers. She begins to downward spiral, and consequently allows Jones to shine and truly carry the movie. The film is much more Celeste than Jesse, and to its benefit, much more Jones than Samberg. Jones also co-wrote the script with co-star Will McCormack, and onscreen, is perhaps the only connective tissue that works in transitioning between the broad comedic elements in the film and the deadly serious ones.
One serious scene is followed by a funny one, but there’s generally no mixing of the two, which rather makes the audience feel like they are watching two different films intercut together. The supporting cast, too, are split into one category or the other, with the usually funny Graynor relegated to being the grounded best friend who’s all sage advice and no comedy, and McCormack’s pot dealer as pure comedic relief. Jones and Samberg get to do both, but only Jones succeeds. Chris Messina is a standout in this area as well, able to transition from a goofy, absurd new love interest for Celeste into someone we can take seriously. Samberg is much more low-key and understated than his more “Saturday Night Live” influenced roles, but still doesn’t quite connect in Jesse’s serious moments.
Krieger’s odd choice in filming style adds another layer of beffudlement to the proceedings. Shaky camera, extreme close-ups in quiet scenes that don’t call for it, it very much wants to be something it’s just not. For all its problems though, it’s a pleasant, enjoyable way to spend two hours with the scenarios, dialogue and characters feeling fully realized and true to life. Like its fellow LAFF-er “Ruby Sparks”, “Celeste and Jesse” is also important for its introduction of writer and star Rashida Jones, who – like Zoe Kazan – boldly takes a step forward as a serious talent to watch, both in front of and behind the camera.