By Radhika Menon, Daily Arts Writer
Published August 13, 2012
When a couple has been together for years, there’s a certain level of comfort between the two members that is unrivaled by any other relationship. There are inside jokes that turn your friendly Vaseline tube into squirting male genitalia; secret handshakes spelling out the couple’s initials; conversations held in fake German accents. Both partners are in tandem with one another.
Celeste and Jesse Forever
In select theaters
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But all that glitters is not gold. Celeste (Rashida Jones, “I Love You, Man”) and Jesse (Andy Samberg, TV’s “Saturday Night Live”) were best friends-turned-lovers-turned-husband-and-wife. But years later, their marriage has fallen apart and in light of their impending divorce, they do the opposite of normal: They fight to remain in each other’s lives instead of making a clean break.
To them it’s the perfect break-up. Their mutual friends don’t have to choose between the two parties, and as long as they still enjoy each other’s company, why not stay friends? But when Jesse seems to have moved onto another serious relationship, Celeste realizes she’s not ready to let go of her other half.
If nothing else, “Celeste and Jesse Forever” is emotionally raw and uncompromisingly honest. When you marry your best friend, you expect it to last forever; but as with any break-up, a clean split is always simpler than trying to navigate the murky waters of “staying friends.” For a pair that has been codependent for the better part of their adult lives, letting go and moving on is a difficult transition.
Jones and Samberg easily sink into Celeste and Jesse’s decade-long romance, effortlessly portraying the comfort and chemistry in the relationship. Jones, who co-wrote the screenplay with her own lover-turned-friend Will McCormack, plays a warm and ambitious female character similar to her role of Ann Perkins on TV’s “Parks and Recreation.” Samberg, normally partial to roles that require him to contort his face in his special brand of comedy, shines in a character that requires him to dig deeper emotionally.
Jesse’s childish ways in personal and professional realms are blamed for the break-up — A common catalyst for conflict in the romantic comedy genre. This coupled with Celeste’s Type-A personality begins to converge on stereotypical territory, giving the film its main structural flaws.
The secondary characters all feel exactly that — second-string — to the performances of Jones and Samberg. They are mere stand-ins, fountains of advice that our leads promptly forget. But much like real life, they are unabashedly rooting for their friends while also hoping to stay afloat amidst their indecision.
The film is messy. Celeste is not in love with Jesse anymore, but she can’t let go of his companionship. She goes back and forth wondering how to hold onto him platonically, all the while sending a heartbroken Jesse mixed signals. Jones has stated in interviews that real couples inspired the film, and it shows. The film is a mirror of real break-ups with all of the fanfare, drama and heartbreak of real life.
As Celeste and Jesse begin to find that perhaps there is life beyond each other, it is met with yearning and hatred; desire and sadness. It seems that the perfect couple isn’t actually perfect. And it seems that the perfect break-up isn’t either.