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 breakup. That was a driving force in Jennifer Westfeldt’s “Friends With Kids,” and with “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. Sort of.
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?
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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!”
Ah, 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 setup.
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 L.A.’s trendiest spots.
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.
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 never give us enough to root for them as a couple.
All of which adds up to breakup comedy that is somewhat less than the sum of its parts, but best summed up by a friend who sends Celeste out to date and “be admired.”
“Go. Be admired. Who knows, you may actually show a human emotion.”