CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER
2 stars out of 4
Just offbeat and angular enough to scare away any major studio involvement, "Celeste and Jesse Forever" adheres strictly to the blueprint of those preciously twee indie flicks that came into vogue in the mid-'90s. Toss in two not-quite A-list leads, a few C's, a lot of D's along with racy dialogue and a plot that flies directly in the face of romantic comedy convention and you're left with a tremendously hard-to-sell, late summer, runt of the litter flick.
Co-written by and starring Rashida Jones (as Celeste), "CAJF" dares to deliver an ending fans of this genre will neither expect nor desire and for that the movie deserves major bonus points. The trouble with that mindset is, if you want to be radically contrarian, you'd better offer up something else bordering on the cataclysmic to make the investment of the audiences' time truly worthwhile and "CAJF" fails to do so in a huge way. It doesn't end so much as it just stops.
The daughter of composer/producer Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton, Jones is an expressive, strikingly exotic looking young woman who, up until now, has been regulated to mostly mildly interesting supporting roles in much higher-profile films ("The Social Network," "I Love You Man") and was a regular on "The Office" TV series for five seasons. She's more than paid her dues, proven her worth and should now be regarded as her own woman, not just the offspring of two famous parents.
Celeste makes most Type-A folks come off looking like slackers. She's a social-commentary TV talking head, the co-owner of an L.A. public relations firm and has just written a book with a cleverly risque yet unprintable title. Her coupling with Jesse (Andy Samberg) gives new meaning to the term "opposites attract."
At the extreme far end of the get-it-done spectrum, Jesse makes most slackers appear as driven workaholics. He's a wanna-be designer of some sort working within a vague and unspecified discipline who would rather watch TiVo recordings of the Beijing Olympics than do any actual work. He's the nebulous dreamer, she's the autocratic doer.
The opening title sequence is brilliant. The couples' courtship and half-decade-long marriage is chronicled with still photos and video clips and we learn almost everything we need to know about them in less time than the confessional pop song that plays in the background. Within minutes of the movie starting in earnest we find out that Celeste and Jesse are now on the outs.
Separated and planning to divorce soon, they still live on the same property (she in the house, he in a separate backyard studio) yet they spend all of their free time together and get along famously which drives their friends up a wall. If they can't cohabitate as a couple why do they hang out together so frequently and still like each other so much?
It's simple. While both know they need to move on, each of them believes an outright dissolving of the marriage is worse than living alone together. Because she's such a demanding control freak, Celeste can't find a man that can get close to matching her intellectually or otherwise. Jesse kind of likes -- if that's the right word -- the fact that Celeste wears the pants in the family and even the prospect of dating a perky bimbo in her late teens doesn't excite him.
For reasons better left explained by the film, the power positions between the leads is reversed and the divorce goes from being unlikely to almost inevitable. This is also where the movie goes from being mildly interesting to entirely formulaic.
Even though Jones gives it her all and is quite believable as the desperate chaser, it's simply too much of a radical change of direction regarding her characters' mindset to be taken seriously and it far too often plays out like farce.
For his part Samberg goes from being passive and nondescript to being indifferent and vacillating. Moderately adept at being Adam Sandler's second banana, doing five-minute sketch bits on "SNL" or being part of the inventive musical spoof group Lonely Island, Samberg is woefully inept at pulling off anything resembling heartfelt drama. He's by far the weakest link in this sometimes-inspired and well-intended but ultimately unrealized movie. (Sony Classics)