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Talking About Love

by Laura Leon on September 13, 2012

Celeste and Jesse Forever
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger

Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg in Celeste and Jesse Forever

Girl meets boy. Girl becomes fast friends with boy. Girl falls in love with boy. Girl marries boy. Girl decides, a few years later, boy isn’t the right fit. Girl leaves. Boy finds somebody new. Girl has second thoughts . . .

Such is the dramatic and romantic trajectory of Celeste and Jesse Forever, written by Rashida Jones (who also plays eponymous female), directed by Lee Toland Krieger and featuring a slew of new, offbeat actors (along with a few WTF cameos) who seem like old friends in real life. The movie tries, not always successfully, to blend a traditional romance with a sprinkling of the “How low can I go?” stylings of Bridget Jones’s Diary and a smattering of The Hangover-type bromance.

Jones is a striking onscreen presence; she’s lovely, in an unconventional way, and no matter how drunk or stoned she plays, you get that she’s really pretty darned smart. So, too, is Celeste, only she wants to make sure everybody in the room knows it, and also that she’s right. About everything. It’s a wonder, when we meet them, that Celeste and Jesse have lasted this long. He’s a very underemployed artist, who doesn’t seem particularly perturbed by his lack of drive, but who does resent his wife’s constant rubbing in of her own considerable achievements. They break up within the first few moments of the movie, but with the twist that they don’t want to lose the BFF aspect of their relationship.

This translates as Celeste wanting Jesse to be forever in her thrall, there to help her put together an Ikea dresser or go over a marketing idea for her business. It’s friends with benefits, to a degree, with Jesse living on the guest cottage of his estranged wife’s property. After a late-night drunk fuck, however, Jesse realizes his hopes for reconciliation were for naught, and he promptly gets on with his own life, which includes marriage and fatherhood with the “elegant yet simple” Veronica (Rebecca Dayan). What follows: Celeste getting drunk. Celeste getting stoned. Celeste acting like a complete lout at her best friend’s bridal shower. Celeste caught dumpster diving in Jesse and Veronica’s trash.

I get that breakups bring out ugly and often embarrassing behavior in people. But in this case, it seems as if Jones is trying to punish her character for wanting more, for being successful and adult and mature and wanting somebody to be the same for her. When she realizes she can’t have that with Jesse and decides to move on, she is hounded with regret, remorse, and destructive behavior . . . while Jesse proceeds to become more responsible as a partner and father. To his credit, Samberg gives a very natural, nuanced performance to the degree that, somehow, you never hate him for his slackerness; rather, you truly believe that he’s just a case of arrested development about to blossom into adulthood.

Jones gives a solid performance, especially in a scene where she verbally vivisects a yoga classmate (charming Chris Messina) who has made the mistake of flirting with her. In that scene, you realize what a tyrant she must have been for Jesse, and wonder how is that so many friends and coworkers remain loyal. Too often Celeste spends her time talking, talking, talking at the camera, which becomes like so much lecturing in lieu of dialogue let alone character development, so that the movie becomes less a story about how love changes over time than a lopsided valentine to a self-obsessed young woman.