Celeste and Jesse Forever (***)

Celeste and Jesse Forever is a melancholy, but delightful romantic comedy with a sharp script by Will McCormack and Rashida Jones and two great lead performances. The film stars Jones and Andy Samberg as Celeste and Jesse, a couple in the midst of a divorce, but who still spend all of their time together. This, naturally, annoys their friends and when they encourage Jesse to start dating again, Celeste doesn’t take it well. Throw in Celeste’s dealings with a tween pop star who her company is representing, and the character takes off on a journey of self sabotage that ultimately leads to self discovery and a bittersweet resolution.

What is great about this movie is that it doesn’t shy away from the cringe worthy moments, just laying them out plainly within the narrative.  The script and Lee Toland Krieger don’t pull any punches with regards to things unsaid and uncomfortable situations. There are some very awkward situations and Krieger often lets the camera linger on the actors, absorbing the impact of their strange dealings. Each of the actors delivers the lines with conviction and empathy for the situations they’re in. Though the characters may be judging each other, you never get a sense that they are judging the characters they’re playing, which goes a long way in grounding this story in reality.

There are memorable cameos from Mad Men‘s Richard Sommer, Rafi Gavron and Matthew Del Negro as suitors for Celeste who. Of the main supporting cast, Ari Graynor as Celeste’s supportive, but realistic best friend, and Chris Messina as Paul, a possible love interest, really stick out and manage to make impacts in their limited screen time.

Andy Samberg gives his best performance, though looking at his filmography that’s not really a profound statement. The script gives much more of the heavy lifting to his costar, but Samberg manages to become a much more sympathetic character by downplaying the film’s bigger moments. Considering a plot twist they hand his character, it’s a small miracle that he didn’t go bigger in some of his acting choices.

The standout of the cast is by far Rashida Jones, who gives a great performance as a career driven woman who starts to fall apart in slow and spectacular ways. Playing the self sabotaging Celeste, she’s aces at showing us the cracks of the character while playing up the character’s straight-laced nature. It really a joy to watch Jones tear into this kind of role, not worrying about whether the character will come off as unlikable but not overplaying any moment within the story.

While I really liked the script, there were a few things that could have been tightened up. The plot line involving Celeste’s job dealing with a popstar whose situation mirrors hers, while allowing for showy turns by Elijah Wood and Emma Roberts, seems more like an effort to give Celeste a similar situation to bounce off of, rather than finding a different way to make her realize her faults. The script also doesn’t mention or allude to Chris Messina’s paramour character Paul during a large stretch at the end of the movie, a glaring omission considering that Celeste is constantly inquiring about Jesse’s girlfriend and would seem prone to want to tout her good relationship.

However, the earnestness of the direction and the warmth of the performances more than make up for the few issues the script has. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone who likes sharp funny romantic comedies.

Celeste and Jesse Forever opens August 3.