Saturday, February 24, 2018
Movies

'Celeste and Jesse Forever' has no forever

Celeste and Jesse Forever (R) (92 min.) — If you prefer hipster romantic comedies that are unromantic and not too funny, Lee Toland Krieger's movie may be your grande half-caf caramel mocha frappe. It will help if third-draft repartee about Ikea furniture and vegan menu items still amuses you and professing love is a wishy-washy proposition.

Celeste (co-writer Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) thought their love would never end but it doesn't last through the opening credits. They're separated and planning to divorce — but not really. He lives in the guest house behind her, they still double date with friends, and they can't resist the silly inside jokes constituting their affection.

They're actually rather pitiable, a truth obscured for a while by the actors' innate appeal. At some point there will be one too many sighs, followed by overwritten contradictions of what they've said before, for even Jones and Samberg to overcome. Celeste and Jesse's relationship gradually becomes more and more pathetic; even when each person finds someone else to make them happy they won't allow it to happen.

So, why break up in the first place? The easy rom-com excuse of one person being less motivated than the other, in this case Jesse. He's an artist, although we never see any of his work. She's a "trend forecaster" for a marketing firm, although the chief example of her work we see is a major fail. The late film critic Gene Siskel always said a character's occupation is the best way to know them. In that case, Celeste and Jesse are losers.

The movie is eventually exposed as Jones' attempt (with Will McCormack) to write a showcase for herself, with Jesse shoved aside while Celeste goes through bad dates, worse personal habits. She gets not one but two scenes of awkward confession that Celeste can't quit Jesse, even after he plans to marry a one-night stand he impregnated. Friends and co-workers all express disbelieving frustration at this impasse, and so do we.

Jones does possess a screen presence that will work with better material. Samberg, however, may have found his limitations, with eyes too beady to convey the emotional weight Jesse carries. It turns out the most vapid, unlikable character, a pop star Celeste is promoting (Emma Roberts), ends up making the most sense. Which is actually appropriate, if you think about it. C-

Steve Persall, Times movie critic

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