By Don Simpson | August 22, 2012
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Writers: Rashida Jones, Will McCormack
Starring: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen, Elijah Wood, Will McCormack, Andreas Beckett, Chris Messina, Rebecca Dayan, Emma Roberts, Janel Parrish, Rich Sommer
Celeste (Rashida Jones) is a highly ambitious professional whose business is making gross assumptions and generalizations about people. She is part of the capitalist machine that tells us what we are going to like and dislike in the future; yes, Celeste is a trend forecaster. Unfortunately, Celeste was not able to predict her own future when she married Jesse (Andy Samberg), her college sweetheart. One can only assume that Celeste believed that she could fashion Jesse into the financially responsible (and ambitious) husband she truly desired; but, over six years later, Jesse is still a wannabe artist who would rather surf or re-watch the Beijing Olympics than create anything. Celeste has supported Jesse for the last six years, hoping to foster his ambition and drive; but instead, this all-too-easy environment has been the catalyst for the further festering of Jesse’s slacker tendencies.
When director Lee Toland Krieger’s Celeste and Jesse Forever begins, Celeste and Jesse are already separated, which is a jolting revelation since their rapport is so playful and intimate. They seem to get along better than most married couples, but they are only friends…that is, best friends. (As you might guess, Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” is a recurring motif.) So, why are they separated? Well, Celeste has finally given up on Jesse ever maturing enough to warrant becoming the father of her children. Her biological clock is ticking and that seven year itch has begun to rear its ugly head.
Being that they have yet to sign their divorce papers, it is obvious that they are both holding out some resemblance of hope that they will get back together. Oh, and they still live on the same property — Celeste in the master house and Jesse in the backyard studio. Celeste is obviously keeping Jesse close, just in case he gathers up enough gumption to do something with his life; Jesse wants to remain in close proximity to Celeste with the naive assumption that she will eventually want him back.
They might not be happy on the inside, but they put on a good show; so Celeste and Jesse are incredibly confused when their best friends — Beth (Ari Graynor) and Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen) — tell them that they need to spend less time together. At first, Celeste and Jesse think this means that Beth and Tucker are breaking up; but Beth and Tucker are actually saying that Celeste and Jesse need to go their separate ways. Beth and Tucker see that Celeste is stringing Jesse along and that Jesse is too spineless to break away from Celeste. After enough nagging from all of their friends, Celeste and Jesse finally decide to dip their toes in the dating pool again and the effects of this decision are traumatic and life-altering for both of them.
Rashida Jones and Will McCormack’s screenplay is so stocked with well-played plots twists and tonal shifts that any further discussion of the plot would spoil everything. Krieger (The Vicious Kind) navigates the numerable twists and turns of the narrative quite well, always knowing when to hold his cards close to his chest and when to show them. But even though Celeste and Jesse Forever is a masterfully written and directed film, it is ruined — for me — by the characters. The content seems so real and honest, but the characters all seem so fake. Celeste and Jesse are so shallow and petty, that their personalities are like nails on a chalkboard for me. Then, they are surrounded by what seems like a menagerie of Hollywood caricatures: trashy teen pop idol (Emma Roberts), pot dealing friend (Will McCormack), gay friend/co-worker (Elijah Wood), and yoga douchebag (Chris Messina). Usually I do not mind scripts that are saturated with despicable characters, but Celeste and Jesse Forever would have worked so much better if I could have empathized for either Celeste or Jesse. Instead, I found myself rooting against both Celeste and Jesse for the entirety of the film, always hoping that the film’s title would not become a spoiler for the ending.