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Celeste and Jesse make eternity sound rather appealing
With any eternal vow, there comes the distinct possibility that “forever” may not have been quite as long as originally intended. For Celeste and Jesse, however, this depressing realization never rears its ugly head.
In the new movie Celeste and Jesse Forever, a couple separated after years of marriage defies social norms and their friends’ abilities of comprehension by staying best friends, and even roommates, through the breakup. While career-driven Celeste (Rashida Jones) continues to live in the house they initially shared, slacker Jesse (Andy Samberg) takes up the studio next door to do his work as a freelance artist in between other, less noble activities. Though this dichotomy of ambition was the reason for their romantic separation (“the father of my children will own a car,” Celeste declares), it’s apparently not enough to keep them apart; the non-couple has incredibly appealing chemistry based on a shared silly sense of humor and a general ease which Jones and Samberg, actors known for their comic chops, pull off with flair.
It’s easy enough to spot the previous films that influenced Jones, who co-wrote the film, here. The romantic comedy based on a male-female friendship smacks of When Harry Met Sally, though the tables are turned; instead of chronicling a friendship that leads to romance, Celeste and Jesse is about a pair of friends attempting to come to grips with the dissolution of their marriage. Whether their friendship can withstand the introduction of rival relationships and more serious plot turns is the point of conflict here, though the film generally avoids formulaic romcom plot structure—instead of outlining a progression of easily labeled relationship stages, it catalogs its central couple’s changing attitudes toward their separation.
What sets the story apart from others of its genre, though it doesn’t veer too far off track, is its refreshing subject matter: a couple that is no longer in the throes of romance. Discounting the “bromance” philosophy that men and women can’t maintain legitimate friendships, the film takes the path less followed by exploring how this type of relationship is affected by external events.
Rounding out the story’s sense of seamless humor is its cast of supporting characters, who present no danger of being dismissed as stock characters. Frodo, a.k.a. Elijah Wood, steps out of Middle Earth to fill the role of Celeste’s gay boss, who provides helpful relationship advice, while Emma Roberts comes in as a self-absorbed teen pop star.
Director Lee Toland Krieger manages to draw out a surprisingly poignant performance from Samberg, the SNL star and “Lonely Island” singer we all know and love. Parks and Recreation actress Jones, on the other hand, is expectedly praiseworthy in the role she wrote for herself. Her incentive to do so can undoubtedly be traced to a dearth of such unconventional roles in films written by predominantly male writers.
Saying that Celeste and Jesse redefines gender relations in Hollywood may be going a little too far, but it certainly takes a step in that direction, as the film establishes itself as a rarity in its field. Beyond its uncommon subject matter, however, Celeste and Jesse has a consistently lighthearted comic overtone that keeps it feeling fresh. Peppered with moments of hilarity yet sincere in its tougher times, the story is so likable that it’s easy to forget that it can still be classified under that tired genre we call the romcom. The best thing that can be said is that it doesn’t try too hard, and that’s what makes it so irresistible.