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July 17, 2016

Celeste and Jesse Forever

by Franz Patrick


Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)
★ / ★★★★

A dinner with two friends who are about to get married (Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen) proves unpleasant when one of them speaks up about how awkward it is that although Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) have been separated for six months and in the process of getting a divorce, they continue to hang out with each other all the time as if they were still a couple. Celeste and Jesse have been best friends since they were young and so it is unimaginable for them to let a romantic separation get in the way of their friendship. However, when a woman named Veronica (Rebecca Dayan), a random hook-up Jesse has had somewhat recently, enters the equation, the dynamic duo are forced to reevaluate what is left in their relationship.

“Celeste and Jesse Forever,” based on the screenplay by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, has a wonderful premise and the title characters share a believable camaraderie. Unfortunately, its uniqueness is drained by the chugging machinery of the plot, resting on typical conflicts and questions such as whether or not Jesse and Celeste will eventually end up in each other’s arms. What could have been an exploration of a complex relationship rooted on a friendship that blossomed into a romance and its eventual wilting turns into a tired storyline of a sitcom prior to its halfway point.

One of the ways to allow the material to stand out is to make the supporting characters interesting. Celeste and Jesse start seeing other people eventually, but the people they encounter are caricatures. Some examples include Veronica being exotic and mysterious, Rupert (Rafi Gavron) being very good-looking but too young, and Paul (Chris Messina) being too eager and way into himself. They are not boring, but since the supporting characters lack depth, most of the time it is difficult to be convinced that there is a big threat who may permanently sever the ties between the former couple.

The story feels one-sided. We see a whole lot of Celeste and how hard it is for her to try and move on but what about Jesse? He may be a man—someone who is not especially tough—but he is not without feelings or conflicting thoughts about what they are going through. When we do see him, he shares the frame with Celeste consistently. We cannot help but feel more for the latter since we understand her better. It is a shame that the material fails to communicate that a break-up, in this case, hurts both people.

The film is jolted from its slumber when Jesse and Celeste fight. When they get so angry and frustrated to the point where they remove the filter and tell each other about what they really think and what destroyed their marriage, then the material has a semblance of an identity. We get to realize and appreciate how young they really are. Despite their age, there is a sadness in how tired and restless they look. We root for them to get out of the dumps even though it starts to feel like it is a real possibility that the two can never rekindle what they had lost. Sometimes that’s just the way it is.

Directed by Lee Toland Krieger, “Celeste and Jesse Forever” gained some of my affection but for a fascinating premise, it feels too safe in execution and as a whole. There are some good bits like the squirm-worthy but hilarious moments whenever Jesse and Celeste get anywhere near objects that resemble a phallus. At least the fixation feels true to their relationship. The characters deserve to have a lot more fun—and true—moments like that.

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