Jones and Samberg Power 'Celeste and Jesse Forever'
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) may be separating and divorcing, but they don't see that as any reason they can't be friends. This means that their separation and divorce are about as well thought out as their marriage. Celeste and Jesse were high school sweethearts and got married, and it didn't work. But Jesse still crashes and slacks rent-free in their L.A. guest house out back while Celeste barks into her Bluetooth and hurls herself into her work. This arrangement may not be working for them; it definitely freaks out their friends Beth (Ari Graynor) and Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen) that the separated twosome still go to dinner together and rehash all their old in-jokes and private gags as if nothing's happening ...
"Celeste and Jesse Forever," whose title sounds like it was taken from the inside of a yearbook, or off a tree, or somewhere else it was found etched in a teen's laborious printing, was co-written by Jones alongside Will McCormack. McCormack also gives a hilarious turn as Skillz, a low-rent dope-dealing pal with his own problems: "Medical marijuana is hurting my cash flow, man." Director Lee Toland Krieger has a nice sense of how to shape a scene, and his camera has a feel for both the universal awkwardness of love falling apart as well as the specific places of the real Los Angeles.
But if "Celeste and Jesse Forever" is a showcase for anyone -- and it is -- you'd first have to note Jones and Samberg. Jones has had a solid career in film and TV ("I Love You, Man," "Parks and Recreation") playing sunny, smiley girlfriends. Celeste, though, is different: propelled, driven, flinty, fallible. While Jones is not averse to comedy, like a scene where Celeste deals with a bong taller than she is, her work here as an actor and writer is also real and sincere, and a demonstration of previously unseen depths.
Samberg, freed from the confining wigs and cue cards of "Saturday Night Live" -- or, worse, the product placement and depravity of working with Adam Sandler -- actually gives a remarkable performance here. Jesse starts the film incredibly passive-aggressive, but later, he's outright aggressive, and Samberg shows the way Jesse's failed relationship transforms into a successful resentment.
"Celeste and Jesse Forever" follows a familiar template: Talented young people set out to make a film that showcases exactly what they can, but never get to, do. But the film's Sundance debut was well-received enough to raise it above a sea of similar diversions, and with good reason. You believe in Celeste and Jesse, and you understand how much they love each other, and at the same time how that's not quite enough to keep them together as a functioning unit.
Hemingway once quipped how a man went broke: "Slowly ... and then all at once." Thanks to Jones and McCormack's script, we come in right at the middle of a similar time curve, and yet we never feel out of the loop or unengaged by Celeste and Jesse's natures and characters whether they're stumbling badly or putting one foot hesitantly in front of the other in the name of moving on.
James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Cinematical.com, Netflix.com, AMCtv.com, IFC.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He was also the on-air film critic for San Francisco's CBS-5 from 2006 to 2008. He now lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.