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A Smart Comedy About Divorce

'Celeste & Jesse Forever' is sharp, funny and heartbreaking

August 29, 2012, 5:00 am

Imagine this: Two best friends fall in love, get married and seem to have the happiest union of anyone around. Then suddenly, they split up. The weird thing is, they remain inseparable friends.

That’s the premise of Celeste & Jesse Forever. Rashida Jones is Celeste, a type-A workaholic. Andy Samberg is Jesse, a no-type artist and surfer. The change in their relationship confuses their friends, and ultimately it confuses Celeste and Jesse.

Thankfully, this comedy, which Jones wrote with Will McCormack (who has a great part as Skillz, a weed dealer), is thoughtful, smart and perceptive. It deals head-on with the emotional fallout of a break-up, instead of turning it into a feeble comedy à la The Break-Up. (Remember Vince Vaughn’s movie The Break-Up? No?) That doesn’t sound funny, but Celeste & Jesse Forever is, and it also knows when to play its drama card.

For example, there’s a big plot twist roughly one-third of the way through the movie that throws Celeste completely out of whack. As the type-A half of the couple, she initiates the split, and when Jesse moves on with his life, she loses her mind.

One could argue that no one as put together as Celeste would fall to pieces the way she does, but seriously, how many times have we seen the people we think have their shit together eventually spin totally out of control? Countless times. And, Jones is very funny as she loses it. She gives a wedding speech in the film’s closing moments that has the funniest opener of any wedding speech I’ve seen, real or imagined, and then—this is the movie playing its drama card well—gives a heartfelt, if emotionally raw, rumination on marriage.

A nice surprise is Samberg, who’s never had a chance to go beyond total goofball (Hot Rod) or quiet sidekick (I Love You, Man) in the movies. He makes a major rebound here after the debacle of That’s My Boy, playing Jesse with a sensitivity that somewhat balances out his otherwise slacker behavior.

The screenplay is full of man-that’s-happened-to-me moments. Jones and McCormack have either studied their friends’ break-ups or been through some bad ones themselves, and they manage to pick up on all the happy, sad and head-scratching moments that occur when relationships splinter. When Celeste and Jesse have a tear-filled shouting match on the street, it makes sense. These are real people. It’s a comedy, but they’re allowed to feel some pain.
 

The supporting cast is largely excellent, with Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen as friends who don’t understand why Celeste and Jesse are splitting, and Emma Roberts as a Ke$ha-like pop star who’s hired Celeste as her PR agent. Only Elijah Wood, as Celeste’s business partner, seems a little out of place.

Celeste & Jesse Forever is Jones’ first produced screenplay. It will be a treat to see what she and McCormack come up with next. They make a formidable team.

Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
With Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg and Emma Roberts
UA DeVargas Center 6
R
91 MIN.

 

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