Celeste of “Celeste & Jesse Forever” is a professional trend-watcher, someone who can size up people, ideas and “brands” based on demographic data and simple observation.
One trend she might pick up on is the one “Forever” represents. In a nation where divorce is commonplace, screenwriters are trying to reinvent the break-up. That was a driving force in Jennifer Westfeldt’s “Friends with Kids,” and with this summer’s “Ruby Sparks.”
And it’s the alpha and omega of “Celeste & Jesse,” a cute and wistful romance co-written by and starring Rashida Jones (“The Big Year”). She is Celeste, the over-organized, controlling professional woman who has been married, for six years, to artist/illustrator/surfer Jesse (SNL’s Andy Samberg). They’re best friends, even though he’s an unambitious slacker, a guy who “doesn’t have a checking account, or dress shoes.” That’s why they’re getting a divorce.
They still sing along to “their song.” They have “their gesture,” a little heart shape they make with their hands. They love talking mit zilly German accents, yah? And there’s this game they play with and tiny object that looks phallic.
So what gives?
Their friends — Air Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen, co-writer Will McCormack) may be puzzled, but not “C” and “J.”
“It’s the perfect breakup!”
Ahh, but J is not quite over C. So he starts dating with a mind toward making her jealous. How’s that work out?
Jones and McCormack (who plays a pot-dealer pal), with Lee Toland Krieger (“The Vicious Kind”) directing their script, don’t so much dodge as finesse the obvious pitfalls in this set up.
Yes, this is going to be a see-saw. He’s missing her, then she’s missing him. There’s code-language — “Come over and help me put together this IKEA furniture!” There’s “sex with the ex.”
You crazy kids.
“Celeste & Jesse,” like the characters we’re watching, skates by on being simply R-rated “adorable.” The no-longer-a-couple drops cute little F-bombs, smokes a little weed, drinks a lot of wine, and hits trendy LA’s trendiest spots — “Vegan Vittles” to juice bars, yoga class to Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Dating game mishaps include stumbling into each other in their favorite restaurant, awkward conversations with people too young for you and little slices of LA kinky.
And all around them are characters just a smidge more interesting than the chilly Celeste and the adorably dull spouse who is mostly in the background. Not that Jones has written herself a star vehicle and vanity project. But close.
Elijah Wood is entirely too on the money as Celeste’s “gay, sarcastic friend. Chris Messina is the guy who hits on Celeste at yoga. Emma Roberts vamps it up as a childishly wise Miley Cyrus-ish pop star client of Celeste. Graynor’s testy “best friend” is getting married and dreading the toast Celeste is sure to give at the wedding.
The script has marvelous grace-notes, a couple described as having “an ease” about them, a woman (Rebecca Dayan) who is “simple, but in an elegant way,” and Celeste is sized up (by Roberts’ pop star) as having “contempt prior to investigation.” She judges books by their cover.
Jones, for all her close-ups, plays Celeste as likably chilly, not a frosty, judgmental workaholic living in her own “dark little prison.” Celeste’s character arc isn’t a journey but a very short jaunt.
And Samberg, who sometimes finds funny when that’s what is called for, is more at home mugging than emoting. The pair of them never give us enough to root for them as a couple.
All of which adds up to break-up comedy that is somewhat less than the sum of its parts, but best summed up by the “sarcastic gay” guy, sending Celeste out to date and “be admired.”
“Go. Be admired. Who knows, you may actually show a human emotion.”
MPAA Rating:R for language, sexual content and drug use
Cast: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg
Credits:Directed by Lee Toland Krieger, written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormick. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
Running time: 1:31