I have struggled with my feelings on Celeste & Jesse Forever for days — and what I’ve mostly concluded is that I admire the attempt more than I actually like the movie. That was also my initial reaction. What I’ve been tussling with is why? My initial feeling was that Andy Samberg isn’t up to the heavy lifting of even light drama, but that wasn’t quite it. Then there are the film’s far too frequent ourbursts of Samberg and Rashida Jones engaging in “cute” couples’ private jokes (like wanking a tube of lip balm). This was nearer the mark. In fact, when one character had an outburst over the two of them doing some really unfunny, cloying private routine with a menu, I felt the same way — but not for the same reason, it turned out. As nauseating as this stuff was, that wasn’t quite it. I also flirted with the idea that I was just too old to be comfortable with it all. Then it hit me — the whole thing and the characters are just plain too “LA” for me to relate to. It may not even be real LA — it might be the movie variety — but that’s it.
And that’s too bad, because there’s a good bit to admire in both Lee Toland Krieger’s direction and in the screenplay by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack. That remains true, despite the things that keep me from actually embracing Celeste & Jesse. The basic idea of a couple — Jones and Samberg as the title characters — going through a divorce while remaining the best of friends is interesting enough, despite the fact that how well this won’t work out is a foregone conclusion. But what’s more interesting than that is the film’s attempt at playing with romantic-comedy conventions. For example, there’s Elijah Wood as Celeste’s business partner and best friend, who occasionally tries — not very successfully — to be her rom-com, kooky, gay best friend. (It’d be better if a similar gag hadn’t been explored with Alan Arkin’s police captain trying to conform to movie type nearly 20 years ago in So You Married an Axe Murderer. It’s still a nice touch, even if it’s not as original as it thinks it is.)
What makes the film fresher still is the way it implicitly tackles the whole man-boy business that’s been infesting the movies since the advent of Judd Apatow. It doesn’t exactly savage the idea (you’ll have to wait for Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse for that), but in a very real sense Jesse is the slacker man-boy the morning after. In the cold light of day, this emotionally-stunted, fun-loving, surfer dude might still be cute, but he’s also more than a little tiresome as a life partner. The problem with the film’s approach to this is that it too often wants to reduce the dilemma to surface concerns (Celeste bemoans the fact that he doesn’t even own a pair of dress shoes or have a checking account). Plus, I’m not entirely convinced there’s any improvement in his turning into a pretentious herbivore (to please a new girlfriend) who enthuses about the quality of the seaweed at a restaurant. Still, it’s nice to see the issue addressed in some manner.
In the end, it’s a film that tries to be something more than “just another indie romantic comedy,” but never wholly succeeds. It’s not a bad movie. In fact, it’s a pretty good movie in many ways, but it has fewer cogent things to say about relationships than such fantasticated — and less self-aware — recent films as Safety Not Guaranteed and Ruby Sparks. It’s worth a look, but it’s nowhere near as clever and hip as it tries to be. Rated R for language, sexual content and drug use