Film Review: Celeste and Jesse Forever Ends Up in Conventional Territory

18 Aug

Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg in Celeste and Jesse Forever

*Because I’ve been writing for Filmophilia.com, I’ve let this blog slide for the past few months, but in the coming weeks I’ll be updating this site with past posts!*

Directed by Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind) and written by Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) and Will McCormack (Boiler Room), Celeste and Jesse Forever tells the tale of two best friends who are getting a divorce — from each other.  The film stars Jones and Andy Samberg (Saturday Night Live) as Celeste and Jesse, married for six years and now separated.  However, they get along famously and still spend all their time together, so much so that it causes another of their friends (Ari Graynor) to stomp out of dinner just because it’s all so weird.  (Considering the frequency of this film cliché, you’d think people in L.A. were in the habit of stomping out of restaurants so often that it’s a wonder the waiters can pay their rent.)

The best aspects of Celeste and Jesse Forever are its two leads.  Jones and Samberg are attractive, have decent chemistry, and look great on the big screen.  Will McCormack also nails it as the supportive pot-dealer friend trying to keep his business afloat in the land of legal medical marijuana dispensaries.  The film presents a unique side plot involving Emma Roberts (niece of Julia) as Riley Banks, a teen music idol who hides her sisterly wisdom beneath an obnoxious exterior.

Unfortunately, though, the rest of this film falls flat.  Flaws include a number of unconvincing plot turns.  First it’s not clear why Celeste and Jesse are breaking up.  Slowly it becomes clear that Celeste has initiated the separation because of her husband’s general lack of ambition.  While Celeste has a booming career as a trend-spotter who makes television appearances and has just published a new book, Jesse doesn’t have a job, a bank account or a car.  He seems happy enough to lounge around watching reruns of the Olympics. Once his level of irresponsibility is made apparent, one begins to wonder why any woman would have stayed with Jesse for six years in the first place (though the fact that he looks exactly like Andy Samberg may be reason enough).

Then, once the two are separated, the story takes a turn, as out of nowhere, Jesse enters into a very serious relationship with another woman, which makes Celeste jealous.  Unfortunately, the reasons for this turn of events come off as incredibly contrived.  The film’s explanation for Jesse’s sudden dive into coupledom with this new woman comes in a one-two punch that stretches the limits of plausibility. Somehow it’s hard to accept that any man would be that unlucky (or that lucky, considering that the other woman is played by the beautiful Rebecca Dayan).

Left on her own, Celeste goes through a painfully predictable series of breakdown scenes in which she engages in public drunkenness and eats too much mayonnaise.  For a moment viewers may hope that the film will buck the typical rom-com formula, but soon we realize that yep, you guessed it, the whole breakup must be attributed to Celeste’s controlling nature and other personality problems, which must be corrected.  Otherwise (wait for it!) she will die alone.  As Celeste realizes that she has always thought of herself as smarter than Jesse, the film never allows for the consideration that if her husband doesn’t have a bank account, it’s very possible that she’s not wrong in this.  (You want a husband with a job?  You horrible hag!)  In contrast to the workaholic Celeste, Jesse goes for a woman who’s more “simple” and holds a less-threatening job as a “dancer.”

While on some levels, this film seems to be feeling out a new path along the well-worn roads of romance, really there’s nothing more formulaic than a story about a woman who has to realize she’s a Type-A bitch in order to find love.  It’s not quite The Taming of the Shrew, but still.  The song of the frenetic, demanding woman who is so successful in her career that she must be punished in the realm of love is a hackneyed tune, and audiences called its bluff a long time ago. Usually critics blame the insecurities of male screenwriters for this kind of narrative, but one can’t help but feel that Rashida Jones should have known better.

Final Verdict:  Celeste and Jesse Forever is a film that at first seems to buck convention before ending up in uber-conventional territory.  The humor never hits any real stride and plot points seem alternately cliché and contrived.  On the other hand, Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg are super-hot and look amazing on the big screen.

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