- Jones and Samberg: Who wears the pants?
Celeste & Jesse Forever| B
Like the proverbial better mousetrap, smart people are perpetually attempting to improve the romantic comedy formula, even if that involves twisting and contorting the genre into odd configurations. Celeste & Jesse Forever subverts the format by setting the action in the long, slow aftermath of a breakup, with a lead couple that only realizes how deeply they really love each other when they divorce.
The man and woman of the title, who still spend every day together even six months after their supposed separation, are played by Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg, a pair of tremendously appealing TV stars who have yet to develop real film careers. Viewers may be skeptical of the notion of goofy SNL man-boy Samberg in a grown-up role, but it's only partially adult; he's playing a dude who seems to have molded all of his adult behavior after Tom Hanks' character in Big.
Jones gets to wear the pants in this relationship, as the accomplished but slightly neurotic Type-A Celeste, who is constantly trying to prove she's chiller than she really is. She works as a "a trend forecaster," cranking out books and talking-head appearances, but this pop culture expert is probably more comfortable on the couch making goofy faces with her BFF Jesse than she is club-hopping.
The amiable, directionless Jesse is a visual artist with talent but a seeming allergy to success. This lack of motivation is what led Celeste to end the marriage, though she lets Jesse stay in the guesthouse, hangs out with him constantly and still acts out all the cutesy little inside jokes with him, much to their friends' dismay. They could linger in this post-romance wasteland indefinitely, but Jesse calls her bluff and decides to go on a date, which is when things get really messy.
Really separated at last, they head in different directions; she spirals down into a boozing, toking and cake-gobbling malaise, and he starts jogging and eating at vegan restaurants with "fresh seaweed" menus. This new setup is a mild flip on familiar genre tropes, where the immature man has to clean up his act to win the sophisticated gal, but here she has to learn to relax and reassess her priorities in order to be happy.
None of this is as groundbreaking as the film might believe it to be, but the leads are appealing, warmly human and fun to watch — even if we never sense that this is an epic romance truly in need of saving.
Jones wrote the part for herself, much like Zoe Kazan did in the recent Ruby Sparks, and both films share indie preciousness and some of the same super-hip L.A locales. There is a reflected veneer of hipness on everything that's as glossy as an Apple store at night, but the characters' ironic detachment is presented as an obstacle to their own bliss.
Celeste & Jesse isn't a timeless film, but even with its flaws, it's a smart and sweetly melancholic one. It's not a about love-everlasting but about love as a brilliant flare that illuminates the sky ahead and then fades. Whether we can find the horizon in that lovely flash, and remember the way forward is another, even more beautiful thing.