Disclaimer: This review was based on a screening of Celeste And Jesse Forever at the Sundance Film Festival. The film has since been altered for theatrical release.
If nothing else, the shaggy romantic comedy Celeste And Jesse Forever establishes that Parks And Recreation’s Rashida Jones is a movie star. Playing a Type-A personality whose best friend is her childish soon-to-be-ex-husband Andy Samberg, Jones gives a performance comparable to Holly Hunter’s in Broadcast News: a simultaneously sympathetic and critical take on the kind of perfectionist who drives away the people she loves with her nitpicks and egomania. Then, once Samberg gets another woman pregnant—and subsequently straightens up, becoming the man Jones always wanted him to be—Jones gives irresponsibility a go, drowning her troubles with wine, pot, and bad dates. Jones is never less than engaging in Celeste And Jesse, and in the movie’s final 20 minutes, when she owns up to the mistakes she’s made in her relationships, her sorrow is genuinely affecting.
The problem is that the hour leading up to that big finish is exceedingly dire, and while Celeste And Jesse marks Jones as ready to make the leap from TV to film, it also suggests that she maybe shouldn’t be a screenwriter. Celeste And Jesse’s script (which Jones co-wrote with Will McCormack) is shapeless and witless, aiming for an offhandedness in the interactions that instead comes off as contrived, or sometimes just bland. Too much of the comedy is rooted in clichés: Samberg’s new love is a neo-hippie who forces health food and New Age spirituality on him, Elijah Wood plays Jones’ gay boss as self-consciously sassy (and the movie seems to think that having him mention the stereotype excuses the lazy characterization), and so on. Celeste And Jesse is easy to root for, since Jones is so charming and the main idea—that lifelong friends maybe aren’t meant to be partners—is so poignant. But director Lee Toland Krieger, Jones, and McCormack have populated a true-to-life situation with sitcom-level characters and sub-sitcom-level jokes. Its heart is in the right place, but the body is artificial.