Sundance 2012: 'Celeste & Jesse Forever' is Heartbreaking, Hilarious
by Ethan Anderton
January 22, 2012
In the long line of romance on the big screen, films usually tend to veer in one of two directions: straight-up romantic comedies, or dramatic, sometimes tragic, love stories. But every now and then a film comes along that takes the best of both worlds and delivers a story that brings tears to your eyes both in laughter and in heart-wrenching pain. Celeste and Jesse Forever is one of those films, essentially a mix of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Blue Valentine, which features two somewhat unlikely romantic leads in the form of Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones (who also co-wrote the film) each shine in their own way. Read on!
Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Samberg) are the cutest couple. They jam out in the car, have plenty of inside jokes and like to mock masturbate small, phallic bottles of lotion to climax. However, they've been separated for six months, and their friends (played by Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen) just can't take it anymore. Slowly, what seems like the most perfectly awkward friendship deteriorates into the remnants of a broken marriage whose debris lingers in the mind and heart of both Celeste and Jesse. The film starts lighter and seems like it just might be one of those average romantic comedies, but gradually, our would-be couple hit several rough patches, and the humor soon only intermittently interrupts the real heartbreak.
What makes Celeste and Jesse Forever that much more hard to endure as a broken romance is the stunning chemistry between Jones and Samberg. Neither has ever been the romantic lead like this, but the awkward but funny "Saturday Night Live" star and the lovely former regular of "The Office" each have something unique to bring to the table. Rashida Jones has never been better, and delivers a career-defining performance, easily aided by the fact that she wrote the script with Will McCormack, drawing certain friendship traits from their own lives. The actress proves that she has what it takes to be a leading lady across the board, but having her write her own films just might serve audiences better.
Meanwhile, Samberg gets in touch with his emotional side, delivering a dramatic turn that audiences haven't seen before. Magic like this between a couple on the screen is rare, and it's even more impressive they they can both bring the funny and tragedy at the same level. There's also a stellar supporting cast with Graynor and Olsen playing the duo's best friends, not to mention Elijah Wood playing the perfect gay co-worker at Celeste's office and Emma Roberts playing an Avril Lavigne-esque pop star who gets involved with their marketing company. McCormack himself even shows up a few times as Celeste and Jesse's drug dealing friend who at one time considers selling meth or teaching pre-school.
Lee Toland Krieger makes this a fine return to Sundance (after directing The Vicious Kind with Adam Scott previously), and a spectacular showing that he knows how to direct comedy with heart. Anyone who's ever fiercely loved and lost another will know the pain of this film, and it will toy with emotions as laughter raises your spirits before having your heart crushed with drama. While getting such stellar performances out of the actors is totally to the credit of Krieger, he wouldn't have much to work with if it wasn't for the charming, natural and spectacularly written script from Jones and McCormack. Celeste and Jesse Forever is touching, funny and the perfect film for anyone who's loved and lost and even has a great soundtrack to make it that much more memorable and endearing.
Ethan's Sundance Rating: 8.5 out of 10