Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) have been together, well, forever, marrying young and perfectly happy for many years.
Jones and co-writer Will McCormack don't bore us to death with any tedious back story; the film jumps right into the conflict. Celeste wants a divorce -- although Jesse is her best friend, he also lacks drive and focus in his own life. Celeste has built a good career working in a kind of public relations new media job none of us could have imagined having as children, and has supported Jesse's struggling artist ambitions. So, they're splitting up, but it's the friendliest divorce ever.
Even though they're separated, Jesse still loves Celeste, still lives in the guest house of the home they once shared and still spends all his spare time with her, hoping to change her mind and reconcile. As Celeste encourages Jesse to move on, a series of events occur that show her she may have been wrong about the most important relationship of her life. Without Jesse as the center of her world, Celeste falls apart at the seams.
Andy Samberg is wonderful here as Jesse, funny and sweet, but it's Rashida Jones who steals the show as Celeste, trapped between what she thinks that she wants, and what it is that she has. Jones, as a screenwriter, knows this character inside and out, as her emotions run the gamut from sentimentally silly to heartbroken, rock-bottom devastation.
The supporting cast is notable, and most of them relate solely to Celeste in some way: Ari Graynor, as her best friend who is embarking on a marriage of her own; Emma Roberts, as a rock star client of her PR firm; Elijah Wood, as her gay co-worker, whose jokes fall flat almost without fail, and Chris Messina, as a new suitor who unfortunately comes off like a poor man's Mark Ruffalo in his attempts to be charming.
Much like the recent divorce dramas "Take This Waltz" or "Smashed," we're given a look at the private inner workings of a relationship that others rarely see. Celeste and Jesse met when they were teenagers, and have built a repertoire of ridiculous voices and dirty jokes that only they appreciate. In relationships, there's a kind of solemn unspoken vow that what happens between the two of you is sacred, special and separate from the world that everyone else exists in, and "Celeste and Jesse Forever" captures this remarkably well, even as we witness the transformation of that bond.
Celeste's disappointment in herself, and in Jesse, is heartbreaking, and her attempts at a resolution are tender and sincere, a credit to Jones' acting and writing.
In fact, the film's greatest strength and biggest weakness is the script. The film is funny, yes, there's plenty of laugh-worthy jokes to be found throughout. Samberg especially handles this material well. But it goes on a bit too long and there are a few too many characters to even really remember their names, much less appreciate their function.
Jones and her co-writer Will McCormack, who also appears in the film, have written realistically self-involved characters, which would be annoying if didn't so accurately illustrate the myopic nature of relationships. Director Lee Toland Krieger has captured the general atmosphere of Los Angeles at a time when the city is still changing, still finding itself.
This recent slew of young divorce dramas and comedies points to an observance of a cultural shift, where the average first marriage lasts eight years and many of our peers are embarking on their second marriages younger and younger. Forever is just a word to us now, a promise and a vow that didn't mean what we thought it would when we pledged "as long as we both shall live." From the beautiful editing and pitch perfect production design to the skillful acting and writing, "Celeste and Jesse Forever" is a thoroughly modern look at the confusing world of relationships that the late-twentysomethings have inherited.