I won’t lie: I’m a little ready for the post-”(500) Days of Summer” boom of quirky romantic comedies to die down or at least start getting somewhat original again. Not that Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg don’t make an infinitely watchable semi-couple in “Celeste and Jesse Forever.” And believe me, I would much rather a movie buck the genre conventions than accept them completely.
But part of the charm of Marc Webb’s movie back in 2009 was that the anti-romantic comedy was not entire subgenre; it was just one movie that dared to be real. Now, lack of formula has started to feel like a formula in and of itself. This reactionary spirit is now starting to inspire that same thing that galvanized it to react in the first place: fatigue.
I have a feeling that perhaps the viewing climate for “Celeste and Jesse Forever” may be the reason why my reaction to the film was not quite as rapturous. To be sure, Rashida Jones’ script, co-written with Will McCormack, of two best friends who get married and then have to separate to regain their friendship is well-developed and acutely perceptive about the nature of romance. It’s even accompanied by surprisingly effective direction from Lee Toland Krieger, who uses the camera for powerful emotional impact in a way that humbly doesn’t draw too much attention to itself.
The movie should loudly announce the arrival of Rashida Jones as a major force in film, something I’ve been calling since her stint as Karen Fillepelli on “The Office” and clamoring impatiently for once she became Ann Perkins in “Parks and Recreation.” If you’ve watched NBC comedy at all over the past five years, you would know by now that Jones is the real deal, an indie Emma Stone who might be a little less bubbly only because she dwells on the darkness of life somewhat more. Given that she also penned “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” I don’t see how this won’t portend a major breakthrough for Jones.
Andy Samberg is also a marvel as Jesse, amusing with his physicality and commitment that made the “SNL” Digital Shorts such a mainstay of our culture while also delving successfully into the darker, deeper reaches of his character. I only wish Jones had let him develop some more; though Celeste and Jesse may share the title, she has a disproportionate amount of screen time. It makes sense for her to be the access point of the film for the audience since it is a romantic comedy – or at the very least, a comedy where romance is the primary concern – but I do think Jones missed a chance to close the gender gap.
She also fills the screen with somewhat superfluous supporting characters, including the indie staple archetype of the gay best friend, this time incarnated by Elijah Wood in some rather unseemly tight button-downs, and a Ke$ha-inspired pop princess interpreted with the gusto of Kristen Stewart by Emma Roberts. It’s nice to have some comedic relief in a comedy, yet I just couldn’t help but think how the movie might have benefitted from using some of that time to give us more Celeste and Jesse. They don’t have to be in the frame forever, though I might have enjoyed it if they were together in it more because you don’t have to be Walter White to see the chemistry between Jones and Samberg. B /