Lee Toland Krieger's film tries to have its romcom cake and eat it by telling of a pair of star-crossed lovers in the midst of divorce.
The rom-com is a resilient old bastard. Many films that straddle the indie-mainstream spectrum have taken on this hardiest of genres, tinkered with the formula and injected it with edgy content. But from The Five-Year Engagement to Friends With Benefits, they’ve yielded mixed results.
In Celeste And Jesse Forever, the twist arrives early. After a montage of loved-up photos, we accompany Celeste (Rashida Jones, also cowriter) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) on their morning commute. Their conversation is full of in-jokes, banter and standard-issue bickering, as well as one bizarre bit of business in which the duo dementedly jerk off a phallic tube of lip-gloss towards its gooey climax.
But there’s something hidden behind this chemistry – a revelation that hits so hard, it might as well be accompanied by a record-skip audio cue. Over dinner that evening, one of their friends reveals that the couple broke up months ago and are, in fact, going through a divorce.
After this table-flip of a development, Celeste & Jesse Forever takes an altogether more dramatic turn, shifting focus away from the kooky couple and concentrating on Celeste, who goes through a cycle of determined singledom, bad dates and inevitable heartache.
Jones may have impressed with her down-to-earth quality in TV sitcoms like The Office and Parks and Recreation, but she’s slightly stretching herself here as her character constantly veers between mania and melancholy. Her Celeste is a bundle of contradictions; by turns pragmatic, pedantic, boozy and bitchy.
Such contradictions make for excellent drama, but for all its ambition, the film can’t escape stagnant rom-com distractions. The protagonists have the familiar friendship group of gay BFFs (Elijah Wood) and hyper-masculine dudebros (co-writer Will McCormack), and the script is jam-packed with lukewarm gags about Ikea, vegan restaurants and ditzy starlets.
Celeste And Jesse Forever attempts to mine new ground – namely that hard-to-describe situation in which a relationship outlasts a romance – but while it tries its hardest to break up with the genre, it still yearns for emotional support.
An ambitious screenplay debut from a familiar face hoping to find something real in the rom-com formula.
Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg make a good couple. Shame about the strained jokes.
Charming and not without its moments, but far too conventional to capture the complexity it strives for.