A ’Ship at Sea

I’m not sure what I can say about Celeste and Jesse Forever without giving too much away.

Celeste and Jesse, played by Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg, are best friends since college who married and then amicably separated while remaining buds. The entire plot revolves around whether they reunite and/or how they cope with drifting apart.

If I tell you Forever is a comfort film — not that I’m doing so — you’d probably guess that there’s a happy ending. If I tell you Forever should only be viewed if you can handle relationships going south — not that I’m doing so — you’d probably guess that there isn’t. If I tell you that Forever is good enough to withstand either the cliché of the happy ending or the bummer of the alternative, well, I’d be speaking untruth, albeit not of great magnitude; Celeste and Jesse Forever is good, just not quite good enough for me to honestly say I enjoyed [whatever happened].

Continued with spoilers after the poster, then...

'Celeste and Jesse Forever' poster

Okay? You saw it and/or don’t care?

I suspect that Celeste and Jesse, directed by Lee Toland Krieger, is a lot tougher for those of us who’ve gone through the dissolution of a committed long-term relationship. The very fact that it’s so on-target in depicting the vagaries, contradictions, venalities, and banalities of human nature and the randomness of life is why, for me anyway, it’s so hard to watch.

One reason why we as viewers (or readers) are so devastated when sadness is visited upon characters in whom we’ve become invested — from major tragedy to callous personal slights — is that, on some level, we’re aware that the writers are choosing that sadness. We discover that Jesse got his one-night stand pregnant, and although she seems nice enough we’re at least halfway expecting if not hoping that it’s a conniving ruse or that she’ll lose the baby. I’ve always hated being put in the position of rooting for bad things to happen so that the “right” couple can end up together.

Celeste and Jesse Forever is When Harry Met Sally in reverse — more of a drama
with comedy than a romantic comedy with drama, asking not whether a man and a woman who are friends can avoid getting romantically entangled but whether a man and a woman who were romantically entangled can remain friends. While Samberg’s depth is the bigger surprise, given the frat-boy mugging that predominated during his SNL days, that shouldn’t detract from how impressively Jones — who co-wrote the screenplay (with actor Will McCormack, seen as the pot-dealing “Skillz”) and who co-stars in the perfectly cast Parks and Recreation — carries the movie.

Most of the comedy that the film does contain is wry or cute or both, knowing of the ways in which friends and lovers have pet schtick. One surreal moment, however, comes when Celeste and Jesse are finalizing their divorce in a law firm’s conference room. The corporate logo on the wall reads “Stein, Weinberg, Steinberg, and Jimenez” — and each of their attorneys is black. I can only assume that it’s an intentional sight gag, and it’s a good one, but it breaks with the vibe of the movie; this is why we’re told to kill our darlings.

Is the title Celeste and Jesse Forever bitterly ironic, misleading, or even optimistic? Perhaps it’s none of those, quite, the point being that while they’ve grown apart from one another they will forever have been “Celeste and Jesse”.

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