August 14, 2012

MOVIES: Celeste and Jesse Forever (Lee Toland Krieger, 2012)

Celeste and Jesse Forever opens with the title couple (Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg) spending a day together, running errands and driving around Los Angeles. They have an easy rapport, share lots of inside jokes, and seem spectacularly comfortable together. He drops her off at home before heading to the beach to surf; she reminds him to be back in time for their dinner with friends that evening.

So it's something of a shock when we find out during that dinner that Celeste and Jesse are separated and in the process of getting a divorce. They still consider themselves best friends; he lives in her guest house; and they seem entirely happy with their new status as best buds/soon-to-be exes.

The biggest problem with the movie, though, is that because they seem like so perfect a couple, we desperately need to know why they've split up, and we never really find out. Oh, Celeste grumbles at one point that "Jesse doesn't even have a checking account. Or dress shoes," but those things were surely true when she married him in the first place, so what's changed? We don't know. And since their current status is so utterly inexplicable and arbitrary, it's hard to have any interest in where they wind up.

Which is a shame, because there are some talented actors here. Jones and Samberg are both delightful. He's a particular surprise; nothing he did on Saturday Night Live would have led me to expect this kind of real acting. Will McCormick has a laid-back, dry charm as the local pot dealer; Emma Roberts is funny as a not-so-dumb pop star; and Chris Messina is carving out a very nice niche for himself as a 21st-century Ralph Bellamy, always playing the brother, the best friend, the Other Man, and so on.

Elijah Wood is less successful as Celeste's boss, who wants desperately to be her Sassy Gay Friend, a joke that isn't made any funnier by having him explicitly comment on how desperately he wants to be her Sassy Gay Friend. (And how much longer do we have to keep pretending that Wood has anything to offer other than those creepy Keane-moppet eyes, anyway?)

It's a movie with a lot of interesting moments, but the great gaping hole in the narrative is so distracting and frustrating that it's hard to enjoy them as much as you'd like to.

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