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Celeste and Jesse Forever

August 12, 2012
Celeste and Jesse Forever

Since leaving SNL, Andy Samberg is not just making terrible comedies with Adam Sandler like That’s My Boy. He’s also throwing in on NBC comedy colleague Rashida Jones’ first screenwriting effort, Celeste and Jesse Forever. And while it’s not terrible, or even flat-out bad, there’s just not that much to recommend it. I can appreciate the motivations driving Jones and co-writer Will McCormack’s script, but it never quite gels, and it doesn’t hold up to examination.

Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Samberg) are best friends, and they’re also married. For now, at least. They’re separated, heading towards divorce, and it’s the fact that they still hang out all the time and Jesse still lives in their guest house that drives off their engaged friends Beth (Ari Graynor) and Steve (Eric Christian Olsen). If it were me, I’d have run screaming at the fact that even as their marriage ends they’re stuck in the way-too-cutesy phase dominated by personal in-jokes and saccharine demonstrations of just how in love they are, as if they’re trying to convince someone else, or themselves. Pretty much all their interactions are dominated by Samberg’s style; they’ve even got a “C+J” gang sign they flash at each other.

And this fits with Jesse — an all but unmotivated artist who has so far failed to launch and doesn’t seem very interested, even when making the effort could well have saved his marriage. Really, how in love can this guy be if he can’t be asked to step up? Did they not discuss this? Did Celeste not see this coming?

She should have; she’s a sharp, capable woman in pretty much every other respect. With her partner, Scott (Elijah Wood), she runs a trend-forecasting and brand-building firm that’s successful enough to get her invited on news shows as a commentator. In fact, she’s a radically different — and much more likable — person the moment that Jesse is out of the room. And thankfully the movie focuses more on her and her neuroses about herself and her relationships once Jesse meets another woman (Rebecca Dayan).

Because as much as I find Samberg obnoxious, and the two of them obnoxious as a couple, they could have been a great obnoxious married couple for the rest of their lives if Celeste had just been able to work through or accept imperfections rather than flipping the board and going home. She runs into this again and again as she starts trying to get back out there: Jesse is unmotivated; Rupert (Rafi Gavron) is a moronic prettyboy; Nick (Matthew Del Negro) is, very mildly, kinky; Paul (Chris Messina) is a douchebag.

But while I can see this undercurrent, so much of the presentation feels slipshod that I spent most of the film — and it feels like there’s much more than an hour and a half of it — waiting for them to get to the point. Jones and McCormack are both first-time writers and most of what they’re known for is television acting by the half-hour or the action-sequence-padded hour, broken up with commercials. That may have something to do with the pacing problems.

The real killer is something I’ve been noticing for a while, but Celeste and Jesse Forever brought into sharp focus: awkwardness and embarrassment aren’t the same thing as humor. Yes, people chuckle when someone does something embarrassing on screen, but that doesn’t mean that it’s funny; that means they’re trying to defend themselves against an emotional pain. And when you take this into account, there’s almost nothing here that’s actually funny.

It’s hard not to hear Jones and McCormack speaking themselves when Celeste rails against vapid pop stars like Riley Banks (Emma Roberts), and when she calls for more nourishing fare they put their own movie on the spot as an example. I applaud this impulse, and I think that they have it in themselves to live up to that call, but they simply aren’t there yet.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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