Mark Reviews Movies

Celeste & Jesse Forever


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Lee Toland Krieger

Cast: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Ari Graynor, Will McCormack, Eric Christian Olsen, Rebecca Dayan, Chris Messina, Emma Roberts, Elijah Wood

MPAA Rating: R (for language, sexual content and drug use)

Running Time: 1:31

Release Date: 8/3/12 (limited); 8/10/12 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 9, 2012

It is quite amazing what we will do because we know nothing else—what we will put up with because we know no other way. The titular characters of Celeste & Jesse Forever have gone through most of their lives with the constant of having each other for a best friend. Their relationship is the epitome of comfort: They can spend a car ride together each other, have inside jokes that leave everyone around them (even friends, mind you) feeling confused and neglected, and say goodbye to each other with an adorable gesture in which they turn their hands into the bottom of a heart. The last one is merely a guess, though; it certainly gives them the appearance of personifying the look of love.

They also have the capability to tear each other down with their critical observations, and there's a lot about which to be critical of these two. Celeste (Rashida Jones) is judgmental and uses her intelligence as a way to position herself as superior to anyone with whom she disagrees; Jesse (Adam Samberg) is irresponsible and cannot even work up the effort to do the thing about which he is supposedly passionate. As much as they have the potential to complement each other, their relationship is a recipe for eventual disaster.

The film opens with a montage of the two happily at play and in love that gradually turns into a look at them becoming frustrated with each other and growing apart. We imagine the screenplay by Jones and Will McCormack (who also plays a mutual friend and marijuana supplier to the couple named Skillz, whose name, occupation, and fashion sense betray a certain knowledge of human interaction) picks up somewhere in the middle of their relationship as documented in the latter part of the montage. They are in the car together, and while Celeste refuses to even look at a concert hall that she believes to be a major eyesore for the city of Los Angeles, Jesse can't stop fooling around for one minute while Celeste takes a phone call for work. The little details can be such great annoyances.

While out for dinner with their friends Beth (Ari Graynor) and Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen), the specifics of the relationship start to unfold. As they read the menu in a fake German accent, the couple's friends have had enough. As it turns out, Celeste and Jesse are married but have been separated for some time. They still see each other every day, which is a given considering that Jesse lives in his art studio, which happens to be located just behind the house where they once lived together. The two are about to finalize their divorce, and Beth and Tucker cannot help but think Celeste and Jesse's behavior of acting like nothing is wrong between them is a little unhealthy and very weird.

It is strange, this relationship of theirs, and early on, the screenplay loads it with the usual romantic comedy expectations. Jesse is not over Celeste and believes they will ultimately get back together. Meanwhile, he attempts to get back on the wagon by dating without any long-term commitment in mind. Celeste publicly encourages him in his decision and laughs off any accusations that she might be jealous.

Privately, she eyes the studio the morning after the night he brings home a date. Her boss Scott (Elijah Wood, playing an unfortunate version of the stereotypical "gay friend" with little success due to how broadly written the character is) insists that she start dating, too. The men are a disaster, from a self-centered actor (Rafi Gavron) to a photographer (Matthew Del Negro) with a sexual fetish that he inelegantly follows through on during a first date. Only Paul (Chris Messina), a businessman who attends her yoga class, seems an appropriate suitor; after all, he's somewhat impressed by her ability to deconstruct everything about his life simply by the things he owns. A pop star (Emma Roberts) who becomes a client for Celeste's company challenges her tendency to stand by preconceived notions about people.

We begin to settle into the familiarity of the scenario and rapport between Jones and Samberg, which is equally believable at both extremes—easygoing and strained—of their characters' relationship. Both actors are very effective here. Samberg shatters his comic persona, particularly in a scene where Jesse has finally had enough disappointment from Celeste, and Jones, who holds the entire emotional thrust of the film together, is wholly sympathetic for all of Celeste's foibles.

Things make an unexpected shift with the introduction of Veronica (Rebecca Dayan), with whom Jesse shared a one-night stand a few months prior; her appearance in his life signals a major change for Jesse. Director Lee Toland Krieger transitions the entire film from a study of how the two manage the murky conditions of their separation to one of how Celeste will cope with the news and everything that comes with it in a single shot—a messy close-up of her face with varying focus as the soundtrack drops to only her breath (Krieger overdoes some of stylistic flourishes in the execution; this is not one of them). Suddenly, he, who had no ambition, starts to get his act together, while Celeste's life, which seems so set, becomes a clutter of confused emotions.

That double-edged sword of the closest of friendships quickly turns to the other, cutting side. Jones and McCormack's screenplay still manages to find the humor in situation (mostly at the expense of Celeste's increasing desperation), but the friends' disagreements have a blunt honesty that cuts to the bone. Celeste & Jesse Forever really shines as these people, whose codependence has trapped them in a state of arrested development, start to grow up—for the most part, at least.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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