If you're not sure you're ready for another movie about attractive 30-ish people with creative-classy jobs and relationship angst, you may be inclined to steer clear of Celeste and Jesse Forever. But that could be a shame, because I found this one more assured and congenial than the vapid Lola Versus, the intelligent but navel-gazingly dull Take This Waltz and the intriguing but underwritten Ruby Sparks. But taken together, these four films plus the HBO series Girls, which I haven't started watching, are enough to form a trend of 2012, of stories written, directed and/or produced by young women.
While the success of these projects has been mixed, it's nonetheless deeply gratifying to see someone other than Judd Apatow or the Duplass brothers sketching out zeitgeist-y romantic comedies that feature that much noted and loathed species of overgrown man-boy, played variously by Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Steve Carell, Mark Duplass, Ben Stiller and the inexplicably successful Adam Sandler.
The "Jesse" in the equation of Celeste and Jesse Forever is also a late-sleeping late bloomer, but as played by Andy Samberg, he has just enough talent and charisma that we can believe the hard-charging but vulnerable Celeste might have married him. Gratifyingly, though, it is the "Celeste" half of the title who is the focus of this Los Angeles story. Celeste is a fuzzy combination of trend forecaster, marketing executive and author of a rant against contemporary culture called Shitegeist. It may be two occupations too many, but as played by the extremely appealing Rashida Jones, who also co-wrote the script with Will McCormack, we're perfectly happy in her presence. If Bridesmaids milked opposing female comic archetypes—pathetic doormat and anal-retentive perfectionist—in the roles played by Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne, Jones plays elements of both in the same character, much more believably. In other words, her Celeste is a complicated, resourceful woman who has both good and bad days.
The plot, too, is a nice change of pace. Here, Jesse and Celeste are already married at the beginning of the film but are in an amicable state of separation, with neither one in a hurry to get divorced. In fact, Jesse's slack life continues in a studio behind Celeste's house, and they unnerve their friends by continuing to socialize as a couple, continuing all their silly games (including an amusing bit with a tube of lip balm).
It's an interesting emotional place the movie puts us in—the couple is together at the beginning of the film, and it's obvious they adore each other. But something has gone wrong, and they know it. The film depicts the process of them making a necessary evolution in their lives. In a certain sense, the scenario is reminiscent of the old screwball comedies, which philosopher Stanley Cavell astutely identified as the "comedy of remarriage." Sometimes the remarriage is literal, as in His Girl Friday or The Lady Eve, but other times it's simply adults evolving within the context of a fractious relationship.
Much of the running time of Celeste and Jesse Forever, directed with flair by young upstart Lee Toland Krieger, is spent on familiar scenes in bars, restaurants, yoga clubs and at weddings, with the usual assortment of quirky, wisecracking friends. There's virtually no plot, either, which is something to savor. But Jones, Samberg and cohorts have chemistry and feelings we can believe in. The conflicts could be resolved in several plausible ways, and it's to the film's credit that it keeps us interested to the finish. Celeste and Jesse Forever isn't anything earthshaking—and it's certainly not in the league of classic screwball films. But it's an empathetic, generous comedy, as well as a compelling advertisement for Jones' appeal as a leading lady.
We can only hope that two more films, both written and directed by women, will finally find their way into Triangle theaters before the year is up: Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister is a strong three-handed comedy starring Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt and—er—Mark Duplass, but that film's local release seems to be off the table (it was originally slated for a July release). And there's no word on a local release date for Two Days in New York, written and directed by Julie Delpy, who co-stars with Chris Rock.
This article appeared in print with the headline "You kill me."