Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Few movies spell out their themes as explicitly as Celeste and Jesse Forever, but even fewer are able to capture as much genuine emotion or realistic friendship.
As the titular couple, Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg are an updated version of the nagging wife and slacker husband pair that is standard fare in TV sitcoms. Celeste works a painfully modern job (“trend forecaster”) and Jesse is a starving artist rather than a pencil pusher, but that’s not the only revamped aspect of the Bundy trope. They aren’t even married—at least not anymore. The film explores the complex relationship between two people who still love each other, live together (he lives in a “studio apartment” in her garage) and want to stay best friends after a divorce.
A strong cast of supporting characters allows the film to reach further than the protagonists could have on their own. Beth (Ari Graynor), Celeste and Jesse’s go-to double date buddy, is a character with surprising insight for an actress known for portraying ditzy blondes. Will McCormack, who wrote the film with Jones, plays Skillz, a gold-hearted drug dealer who provides a go-between and guru for Celeste and Jesse in addition to their illicit substances. Emma Roberts steals scenes as Ke$ha-esque teen sensation Riley B (ripped stockings included) who becomes Celeste’s unlikely friend and guide. These characters provide a down-to-earth channel through which we can connect to Celeste and Jesse; without these other figures the pair would become grating and unlovable.
By far, the most believable character in the film is Scott, Celeste’s not-so-sassy gay best friend and assistant, portrayed by a wide-eyed Elijah Wood. As a gay man who works in marketing, he’s expected to be flamboyantly homosexual, so he tries, and fails, to adhere to the stereotype. Wood succeeds at portraying Scott’s utter ineptitude, awkwardly interjecting ghetto-fabulous lingo and “Oh no you didn’t” snaps into his otherwise professional demeanor. Because Scott only existed in Celeste’s work world, he suffered from a shortage of screen time. His character was a tactful reinvention of a familiar trope, and I wanted to see more of him.
In the end, that’s what Celeste and Jesse Forever does best. It exposes our pre-conceived notions about how society, friendships and people are “supposed” to be and throws them out the window. In a way, it almost feels like the movie is poking fun at us. From the opening montage, the film is a constant bait-and-switch, training us to expect the unexpected. While you can’t necessarily predict what will happen next, the twists are, by the end of the film, flat and unexciting.
Celeste and Jesse Forever seemed as though it was trying to tear apart our definition of a rom-com. It offers a few good surprises and is chock full of loveable characters, but it failed in its grandiose, genre-busting aspirations.