Rashida Jones is attractive, and has more than a little talent in the acting department. She seems to be getting better as her career progresses.
I just hope the same happens with her writing, because her debut as the co-writer of a feature film, Celeste and Jesse Forever was not a great beginning.
Co-written with Will McCormack, also an actor making his feature debut as a screenwriter, this is the story of two people who are best friends, married and going through a divorce.
Jones plays “Celeste,” who has a great career as a Trend Forecaster, working for a marketing/PR firm. Andy Samberg is “Jesse,” who is a struggling artist who currently resides in the guest house of Celeste’s home. The guest house was his studio while they were married and became his residence when they separated. Their best friends, “Beth” (Ari Gaynor) and Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen, from NCIS:LA) are engaged, but a bit tired of seeing their good friends having such a strange separation. Celeste and Jesse spend hours together each day, remind each other they love one another, insist they are each other’s best friends, and make cute heart gestures when they part company.
Jesse really wants things to move in the direction of their reuniting, although he’s slept with one other woman already, and another friend pushes him into dating the Yogurt Shop girl. Celeste makes it clear that she doesn’t see Jesse as the man of her future, she ticks off his flaws and says that the future father of her children is not a man with those bad qualities.
Yet when there’s a problem for either, they immediately phone the other. Celeste can’t put her new Ikea dresser together, so she calls Jesse. He can’t do it either, and that night turns out badly on all fronts. Meanwhile, Celeste’s attempts to enter the dating world don’t go well, while it turns out that Jesse’s one night stand may end up changing his life in a major way as “Veronica” (Rebecca Dayan) re-enters his life.
To complicate matters, Celeste’s firm is in a bit of trouble and it’s important that they do well in marketing the new CD from their newest client, pop star “Riley Banks” (Emma Roberts). She’s nowhere near as clueless or vapid as Celeste thinks, and how Celeste treats her could become problematic. In fact, it turns out that Celeste is convinced she’s always right about just about everything. Even if you are right about everything, it creates problems of other kinds when you insist on letting others know you’re right and they are wrong.
Those of us who’ve been married and divorced, or had long-term relationships, where we stayed friends with our former lover know that keeping such a relationship is not easy. That may be why it seems that part of what’s going on here just doesn’t ring true. You don’t just fall out of love, but when a relationship ends, you have to end that phase of it to move forward. That’s part of the problem these two face. They, for differing reasons, aren’t ready to end that phase, or move forward. Until Jesse is forced to, by Veronica’s revelation.
There are great moments in this film. Sadly, too few of them. There are a lot of moments that just meander and plod along, where clever dialogue is substituted for substantive storytelling. That’s never a good trade-off. Lesser dialogue and stronger story would have helped.
Roberts is particularly good as the supposedly vapid pop singer who is much smarter than anyone gives her credit for being. Samberg’s character has a story arc, but he doesn’t make the most of it. “Celeste” has a variety of emotional highs and lows and Jones is good in those moments.
But in the end, this isn’t a great film. It has promise, and shows that its creators can do better.
I hope they do the next time out.