Celeste And Jesse Forever

Celeste And Jesse Forever

***1/2

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

When boy meets girl, it's love at first sight, but their successful union (traditionally consummated in marriage) can only come about after they overcome a series of obstacles.

The tried-and-tested nature of this formula is precisely what makes it so winning to fans of romance, but its bludgeoning regularity is also what brings a stuffy unreality to the genre, so that any deviation from the norm can seem like a breath of fresh air. All too aware of the pitfalls of romcom conformity, co-writers Rashida Jones (TV's Parks And Recreation) and Will McCormack decided to inject a bit of their own reality into the proceedings, as a couple who had briefly dated before realising that they were better suited as firm friends and strictly professional partners. And so, like When Harry Met Sally… or Friends With Benefits (in which Jones had an uncredited cameo), Celeste And Jesse Forever is concerned with the messy relationship between sex and friendship – except that here the titular couple are trying to remain friends while weaning themselves off the benefits.


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Thirtysomethings Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) go everywhere together, ickily finish each other's sentences and speak in their own cutesy-wutesy private language, as though they had started dating only yesterday – when in fact not only are they one-time school sweethearts who have been married for years, but they have also recently separated and are filing for divorce, despite still living amicably in the same house. "It's the perfect break-up," Jesse tells their friends, "you don't have to pick sides."

Yet, in a curious inversion of romantic norms, there will be obstacles aplenty in the way of this couple's blissful split, as their unresolved issues will prevent them both from moving on. From the start it is clear that the separation was instigated by controlling, ambitious career woman Celeste, while Jesse, a slacker artist committed only to his wife, is still holding out for reconciliation. Yet when Jesse jumps first, moving in with a young woman (Rebecca Dayan) who is pregnant with his baby, Celeste finds herself falling apart with jealousy, loneliness, disappointment and a string of ill-suited dates – unable to turn to her best friend for help, advice and comfort, but equally incapable of letting go.

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The premise of Celeste And Jesse Forever is a great genre-spinner, although it is revealed early, after which the film settles into the sort of heartbreak and yearning in fact familiar from many a romcom's second act, so that even at a mere 90 minutes the plot still feels a little shopworn. Fortunately the writing is so sharp and rapid-fire, and the performances so charmingly self-lacerating, that you will be happy to spend time in these characters' company. "American culture is dying," is the soundbite offered by Celeste to promote her new book (hilariously titled Shitegeist). Lee Toland Krieger's smart film would suggest otherwise.

Reviewed on: 25 Sep 2012
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Two best friends struggle to come to terms with sharing the perfect divorce.
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