Review originally published January 23, 2012 as part of Film.com's coverage of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
The opening scenes are set by photo montage. Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) are clearly very close, they have a special relationship, laughing, kissing, and joking. Everything seems right in Celeste and Jesse Land, until we soon find out that they’re actually separated. Yes, they’ve remained best friends, even though they’re headed for divorce. Maybe they’ve remained too good of friends? Their closeness creeps out their friends and presents difficulties when they’re trying to call it quits with their relationship. Staying so close to each other eventually leads to backslides, but Celeste and Jesse seem unwilling to let go of each other.
Where the film still feels rough is its transitions from the goofy humor to the more weighty dramatic scenes that involve Celeste and Jesse dealing with their unusual situation. They both find it impossible to get rid of their feelings for each other, fair enough, but there are entire subplots in the movie that either feel underdeveloped or almost unnecessary. For instance, I couldn’t help but think that Emma Roberts’ part should be completely cut out of the movie. As far as I could tell her character, Riley Banks, was around solely to point out that sometimes even celebrities have relationship problems and get their feelings hurt (just like the rest of us). Elijah Wood’s portrayal of Celeste’s gay work colleague also felt forced, and at times unfunny. But again, this is likely not the exact cut the movie will get when it is released into theaters. A more polished version should be able to handle both the humor and drama transitions.
Note: Director Lee Krieger let us in on the fact that they were still working on the film’s finished product a week before it premiered here at the festival, so I will caution you that this review is most likely for a film that isn’t quite as refined as the filmmakers are intending it to eventually be. That said, the film starts out placing Celeste and Jesse in different situations (much like an SNL skit) involving two people in a separated marriage who still can’t get enough of each other and the awkwardness that presents to the people around them. Samberg is the perfect person for situational comedy like this. The first 15 to 20 minutes of the film represents simple goofiness as Celeste and Jesse face one awkward situation after another. With other actors this could feel mundane, but Samberg and Jones carry the casually funny relationship humor easily. Celeste and Jesse Forever was certainly charming and funny at times, a different kind of romantic comedy about a couple looking to move apart ... rather than get closer together.