As “trend forecaster” for Pop Form marketing, Celeste (Rashida Jones) often gives interviews to TV entertainment shows. During one live taping, she discusses how the raucous world of pop culture is shifting to “a groundswell movement toward simplicity.”
That’s an apt description for “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” a romantic comedy filtered through an indie aesthetic. It’s a simple, honest movie that is both funny and disarmingly touching.
The film introduces Celeste and her inseparable partner Jesse (“SNL” expatriate Andy Samberg) as they play around in a photo booth, hold hands, make jokes and say “love you” when they part. They look like a typical young-ish couple in love — except they’re actually in the middle of a divorce.
It’s a frustrating, confusing relationship for them and their L.A. circle of friends. Adding to the puzzle is the fact the juvenile Jesse lives in Celeste’s garage, which he’s turned into a makeshift art studio. The cerebral, controlling Celeste explains to a colleague, “I love Jesse dearly, but he doesn’t have a checking account or dress shoes. The father of my children will have a car.”
When Jesse delivers bombshell news that will force him to grow up in a hurry, Celeste rethinks ending this longtime relationship, even as they both start dating other people.
“Celeste and Jesse Forever” is galvanized by Jones, who wrote the film with actor Will McCormack. With her hazel-green eyes separating a constellation of freckles, Jones has an approachable beauty all her own (she’s the daughter of music producer Quincy Jones and “The Mod Squad” actress Peggy Lipton). She honed her comedy skills on TV (“The Office,” “Parks and Recreation”) before landing dramatic turns in projects such as “The Social Network.” Ordinarily, she’s been limited to nice girlfriend turns, a la “I Love You, Man.”
Jones has never before enjoyed a role that plays to her poise, humor and vulnerability. And she has a real edge, leading to scenes where Celeste makes very unlikable decisions.
A running battle with Riley Banks (Emma Roberts), a spoiled pop princess who is her firm’s latest client, brings out the worst in both women.
Riley cuts at Celeste, “You think you’re smarter than everybody, and that is your dark prison.”
The judgmental personality that defines her professional career does nothing to help her personal life. Celeste can’t adjust to the raw reality of the relationship with Jesse once she escapes the comfort of her co-dependent bubble. As played by Jones, it’s devastating to watch.
Samberg also fares better than in recent forgettable comedies such as “That’s My Boy.” He’s not Jones’ acting equal, but he’s engaging and believable. Samberg spends most of the movie avoiding the “look at me” shtick that fellow improv-heavy comedians Jack Black and Will Ferrell often resort to when recruited to act.
“Celeste and Jesse Forever” is still structured like a traditional romantic comedy, with scenes of dates-gone-wrong wandering into familiar territory. The direction of Lee Toland Krieger (“The Vicious Kind”) leans toward episodic, but the writing always lands where it should. Ultimately, the characters ring true and true to each other.
“Do you think it’s weird that we hang out all the time?” Celeste asks Jesse.
The unspoken answer is that it would be much weirder if they didn’t.
(At the Glenwood at Red Bridge, Merriam, Palace, Town Center and Studio 30.)