Celeste and Jesse Forever begins with a happily married couple acting happily married in that perfect, most truthful way as they drive down the streets of LA. They crack jokes, tell it like it is, playfully bicker, and, by the end of the scene, the dude has ditched the chick to go surfing.
To me, that’s real. It is those kinds of silly moments of love that are so hard to convey realistically. Sarah Polley got them (sort of) right in Take This Waltz, but, from the onset, Lee Toland Krieger’s Celeste and Jesse Forever makes it clear that it’s going to show you a relationship with the upmost accuracy.
There’s good and there’s bad here, so let’s crush the bad first.
In short, this movie is crudely uneven. And obvious. Because of its refreshing look and feel (handheld camerawork, dark blue hues, authentic acting), the film does its best to separate itself from other films of the romantic dramedy type. Problem is, despite its visual tone, the story, more or less, plays out in ways we’ve seen ten times over. She moves on from him, he gets jealous. He moves on from her, she gets jealous. She wants him back when he doesn’t want her around, and visa versa and on and on. Celeste and Jesse Forever really wants to be different, but its story (by Jones and actor Will McCormack, who also steals every scene he’s in as a hilarious weed dealer) is nothing new.
As for its unevenness, the movie is hot to cold, up to down, sometimes from scene to scene, sometimes within a scene. Many of the film’s tonal transitions are, again, obvious, and far from fluid.
Now the good. To say Celeste marks the best work Jones has ever done would be to undersell the value of this flawless performance. Every single thing Jones says and does as Celeste is rooted in truth. This is an actress who fought to get her film made (she also produced it), and finally had a chance to flex her best work when “action” was called. As far as I can see, there isn’t a single miss in her performance. Save Michael Caine’s work in The Dark Knight Rises, Jones’ Celeste is the best acting I’ve seen so far this year. It isn’t even close.
Samberg does good gently stepping out of his comic roots, hitting the emotional peaks required of Jesse when necessary. And most every other player involved, including the always-underused Chris Messina, Elijah Wood (who I never like but loved here), Eric Christian Olsen, and Ari Graynor, do well by their characters, even when the script does not.
This isn’t an easy film for me to review. There’s a lot I respect about it, but there’s a lot lacking. The passion and drive of the people involved to get it made is evident, but, in the end, it just isn’t enough. Or at least as much as it could be. C+