It seems like most romantic comedy movies follow very similar formulas, and Celeste and Jesse Forever tries to break off and be something wholly unique. It almost succeeds. From first time writing partners Rashida Jones and Will McCormack (read our interview with them), the movie is about two friends, Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg). They are best friends, were married at a young age, and recently divorced — but they are still close. But then the problems begin to appear. It is clear that there are still unresolved feelings between them, but they still split due to irreconcilable differences. Mainly, Celeste is the owner of a media consulting firm and Jesse is an unemployed surfer.
Can they still be friends? What will happen when they try to date other people? How will managing the image of the new teen idol Riley (Emma Roberts) affect everything else? Will Elijah Wood play a convincing and amusing gay best friend or will it get tired? And who’s really to blame? Of course, this isn’t a typical romantic comedy, so things get complicated — a lot. Every character that may seem cliched has more layers than might be expected, and emotional beats are played mostly realistically. The acting of the two leads is excellent, with Rashida Jones playing both laconically disaffected and heartbroken to great effect, and Andy Samberg drops away from his typical mugging to have a fairly nuanced performance.
But the movie has some real problems, which unfortunately are about structure and pacing. Several scenes and relationship beats are essentially repeated for no apparent reason other than to manufacture slightly more drama, not to push the characters forward to any resolution. It gets quite slow in places when the movie ought to have been a bit quicker and more interesting. The plot isn’t entirely logical, but the characters are usually engrossing enough to ignore such issues. Andy Samberg isn’t as strong of an actor as Rashida Jones, so he sometimes doesn’t quite pull off the pathos needed for some scenes, but luckily the movie is heartily focused on Celeste, who carries the movie.
It’s nice to try something different from the typical romantic comedy template, and even if the movie sometimes stumbles, it ultimately becomes clever and stands above most of its ilk, not getting too attached to the “quirk” aesthetic that sinks many other smaller romance comedies. Gives you a little bit of hope for the next one.