Review: “Celeste and Jesse Forever”

It’s no world-beater.

by Simon Benarroch

“Celeste and Jesse Forever”

MPAA Rating: R — for

language (f-words),

sexual content (tame)

and drug use (weed)

Director: Lee Toland Krieger (“The Vicious Kind”)

Writers: Rashida Jones and Will McCormack

Starring: Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation”) and Andy Samberg (“Laser Cats”). Elijah Wood is in there too.

Length: 91 minutes

Opens in Minneapolis: Aug. 17


“Celeste and Jesse Forever” is a rom-com about two somewhat-believable (and pretty obnoxious) people who can’t seem to make their long-planned divorce happen. It’s one of those movies in which the plot develops so little and raises so few questions that the movie could have ended at almost any point and retained its meager impact.

The film starts with Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Samberg) in limbo. The two are separated but not officially divorced. Celeste sees their status as a comfortable middle ground, while Jesse uses it to secretly withhold hope that he might rekindle their romance.

The situation gets shaken up by (disputably) meaningless sex, old lovers entering the fray and bursting emotional dams.

It’s a solid formula, but watching the couple is comparable to watching a wet sheet of cardboard gradually tear itself in half. There’s just no reason to watch.  

At the start you’re likely to be put off by Celeste and Jesse’s painful lack of chemistry. They’re in a constant painstaking routine of friendship rituals — these range from making little heart shapes with their hands every time one leaves to reading menus with silly German accents. Their every gesture is an empty display — for the world, for each other and for themselves. While they cockily relish in their private fun, none of it feels real for a second.

Whether or not you can stomach their act is a toss-up —you either think their games are hilarious or you don’t. If you don’t, then you’ll see little value in salvaging their relationship and wait for circumstances to drive them apart.

Thankfully, the two soon make it obvious (this movie lays the exposition on thick) that they are lying to themselves and aren’t as content with their arrangement as they’d have people think. While this makes for a nice change of pace, it elucidates the movie’s big flaw: For everyone who was nauseated by their faux bromance (fauxmance?), the central problem of the story seems to be solved at this point. We know what they need to do to find happiness: find love elsewhere. The movie even hooked them up with a smorgasbord of pretty alternatives so they could have gone their merry ways.

But they don’t go for it. Instead, they spend most of the film in a directionless game of sex checkers, and you have no reason to care.

To be fair, despite its disdain for the upside-down checkmark plot structure, the movie’s characters become much more tolerable as the (non)story goes on. Eventually Jesse casts off his repulsive fun-loving facade and takes on a stressed, joyless persona which, oddly, seems much more natural for Samberg. Celeste becomes more and more manic as she rushes to keep her self-righteousness from collapsing under its own weight. Some of the movie’s few funny scenes take place in this stretch.

Some might argue in favor of the film’s realism. After all, don’t real people fall back into crappy relationships? Sure, there’s certainly plenty of asinine relationship drama in everyday life, but unlike your heartbroken roommate or histrionic Facebook friend, a movie can make this common situation worth watching — perhaps by examining it with abrasive honesty or maybe just by populating it with quirky characters.

“Celeste and Jesse Forever” manages neither approach (and, no, Wood’s character does not count as quirky despite his best efforts to be Celeste’s “gay friend”). It isn’t hilariously zany, nor is it gut-wrenchingly raw. You won’t join the two on their emotional rollercoaster (this cliché is appropriate given “Forever’s” attachment to tired idioms) nor will you get enjoyment watching it crash. “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is a decidedly boring movie with a precious few smirk-worthy moments.

Maybe it’s all meant to be bland; maybe we’re supposed to be exhausted by these deluded, self-absorbed people — who says that can’t make good cinema? Their uninspired back-and-forth isn’t so different from the borrowed humor and general lameness of everyday speech, after all.

The problem is “Forever” doesn’t make good on its offer — it wants so desperately to wrap its take on romance in a banal catfight that it loses its edge. What could have been a great romp instead becomes a frustrating, spineless, rarely funny experience. Save your money.