Celeste and Jesse Forever, a cliche-free romantic comedy that stars neither Katherine Heigl nor Paul Rudd (and it's to be congratulated for that alone) blazes a new trail through the familiar forest of relationship-driven cinema. But be forewarned: If you think you've been down this path before, you'll be surprised by some refreshingly contemporary forks in the road. And most of the credit should begin and end with star and writer Rashida Jones.
Jones, a fine comic actress (The Office, Parks and Recreation) with ordinary mannerisms and extraordinary looks, wrote the script along with real-life partner Will McCormack, basing the story on their own, of friends who just can't be lovers.
But Celeste and Jesse Forever never feels scripted--it's that expertly crafted. The dialogue is more organic, behaviors more believable and consequences much more tangible. A fine cast, led by Jones and Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg, wear their roles like comfortable suits of clothes rather than the imaginings of a scriptwriter.
Jones plays Celeste, a smarty-pants alpha female to Samberg's slacker Jesse. The film begins where most rom-coms end: with the simpatico pair laughing their way through life. Unfortunately, they also recognize that the only way to save their marital village is to burn it. Much to their friends' and families' chagrin, Celeste and Jesse are preparing to divorce.
"I think it's stupid you guys aren't together," says Celeste's friend Beth (Ari Graynor). "You guys are best friends. That's the hard part. Nothing else matters."
But Celeste has deconstructed her relationship to a fault.
"I love Jesse dearly, but he doesn't have a checking account or dress shoes," she says. "The father of my children will have a car. Jesse will always be my best friend."
Celeste and Jesse Forever considers the selfishness and blame that infects us all. And once we have broken each other's hearts and we lay shattered, too few are able to recover. So we root for Celeste and Jesse, seeing so much of ourselves in their fears and faults.
Jones' script is also generous to its supporting cast, including Elijah Wood, Chris Messina and especially Emma Roberts (niece of Julia), who is so fine as Riley, a teen pop star.
"She's a vagina in a hairdo," snarks Celeste.
But instead of abandoning the pop star to a hackneyed trope, the story chooses Roberts' character to offer insight into Celeste's Gen Y rudeness.
"You think you're smarter than everybody," says Riley to a stunned Celeste. "And that's your dark little prison."
Celeste and Jesse Forever is a chest of treasures, but above all, it introduces us to one of the best movie couples in a generation. I hope they make it work, but I'm not holding my breath.