Either a good romantic comedy or an anti-rom-com, Celeste and Jesse Forever is a movie about characters in love, out of love, and both at the same time. It feels quite real, it has strong writing and good acting, and it passes by at a good clip. And, despite using some of the clichés that these films often have, it doesn’t feel like every generic romantic comedy under the sun, which will certainly allow it to be more than watchable for those sick and tired of most of these movies.
The film’s lead is Celeste (Rashida Jones), even though the title just as prominently features Jesse (Andy Samberg). She’s a Type A personality, while he is decidedly in the opposite direction. They’re best friends, and currently married, pending divorce. She lives in the house, he lives in the studio in the backyard. They commute together, they spend hours on their own in-jokes, and they professor their love daily. This is despite the divorce, initiated by Celeste because she thinks she can do better than her best friend, which we see she can.
This creeps out their friends, but doesn’t both them. That is until Jesse starts dating someone else, which affects Celeste in ways she wouldn’t anticipate. Where will their relationship go from here? Will they stay friends, get back together, or have to stop seeing one another? These are questions that you ask, not because the film forces them on you, but because the characters, writing, and acting are all so strong that you want to find out what will happen. It feels real, or as real as the movies can.
The humor in Celeste and Jesse is largely subdued. This isn’t a laugh-out-loud comedy, and it’s not one that will make you gasp because of how raunchy it is. It’s sweet and smart, and as much a drama as it is a comedy. It understands the humor of everyday life, and it knows how to have fun even in the worst of situations. There are some strong moments where both joy and sorrow are expressed simultaneously. It’s not necessarily an emotional rollercoaster for the audience but its characters certainly experience what amounts to quite a journey.
It makes sense that Celeste is the most prominently featured character, as Rashida Jones plays her, helped write the screenplay, and is listed as an executive producer. However, this brings with it the problem of her character seeming like she is bringing on her own issues, and all she really needs to fix her life is a slap to the face and a lecture about how she should stop moping and move on with her life. She eventually does just that, but it’s a little too late and some viewers might have already given up on her.
This is to not discredit Jones in either her acting or writing, as both elements work well. But her character seems to be the cause of many of her own problems, and while this happens in real life and is obviously intentional, I couldn’t help but be slightly annoyed — and I know other people who will remove the “slightly” part. Despite this, many others will be able to relate, and it’s believability that are the film’s strengths.
If there’s one surprise in Celeste and Jesse Forever, it’s Andy Samberg, who shows a depth that I don’t think I’ve ever previously seen him display. He’s generally a comedic actor and there are those who like him at that. I’m not generally one of them, but he could open up his career if he keeps picking semi-serious roles like this one. He keeps up with Rashida Jones, and that’s no easy feat. It does help that his character was written less seriously, but regardless of that, he shows promise that I’ve never before seen.
There’s some good supporting work here, too. Elijah Wood is the standout as Celeste’s business partner, gay friend, and voice of reason. Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen get to have some fun as friends to both Celeste and Jesse, although more one than the other depending on the point in the film. Emma Roberts has a few scenes as a teen pop star, Chris Pine is unrecognizable in a cameo that will surely make you laugh, and Rebecca Dayan plays Jesse’s new lover.
Celeste and Jesse Forever meanders a touch in the middle, could have used its supporting cast more — the relationship that develops between the Roberts character and Celeste feels superficial because of (1) how underwritten the teen character is and (2) how little time the two spend together. There are also some moments when the subdued, low-key humor is pushed aside for some stupidity that one would find in less sophisticated movies. The rom-com clichés also occasionally come through, although perhaps real life is sometimes like that.
For the most part, I enjoyed Celeste and Jesse Forever. It feels realistic, it has strong writing and well-developed main characters, very strong acting — specifically from Jones and surprisingly from Samberg — it looks great despite being a relatively cheap indie film, and it’s funny and sweet at all the right moments. I can imagine that even those who dislike rom-coms will find something to like in this one. I had fun, and I recommend that you check it out if you’re looking for a slightly different romantic comedy.