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Celeste and Jesse Forever

When we first see them, Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Shamberg) are the kind of couple that often drives friends nuts: sharing private jokes, talking in silly voices to each other, and generally acting like a wholly self-contained unit. They seem to be the perfect couple, best friends as well as spouses.

But at the end of this particular perfect day, they go their separate ways, she to the house they used to share, he to the guest area in the back. They’ve filed for divorce: They just don’t let it stop them from hang around all the time.

Celeste and Jesse Forever, which was written by Jones with Will McCormack (who plays her dope-dealing friend Skillz), displays an affection for classic Hollywood screwball comedies, which were often about divorce and remarriage. But that’s not quite where this is headed. This is not a movie about divorce as a learning curve on the path to eternal love, but as an emotional step to a new place, more Annie Hall than The Awful Truth. Initially Celeste and Jesse may not be taking their divorce too seriously. But when circumstances require that they do, it turns out to be harder than they expected.

Mostly it’s harder than she expected: Despite the title, the movie is primarily about Celeste, who turns out to be one of those driven, successful professional women that the movies love to hate. In the press notes Jones speaks of wanting to upend that cliché with a more sympathetic portrait of this kind of character. That she fails to do so is the problem with the movie. Celeste is a professional “trendcaster” and author of the book Shitegeist, which lectures the world on why pop culture is worthless (even though she seems to have no higher leanings herself). She initiates divorce because her efforts at success are paying off while Jesse, blandly identified as a visual artist, is content to loll in the doldrums.

She is clearly set up as a woman who needs to be taken down a peg. She’s such a paper target, and her fall is charted with such relish (“How’s being right about everything going for you?” sneers one victim of her put-downs as she bottoms out) that it’s impossible to derive any pleasure from watching it.

Though Celeste and Jesse Forever tries to take on an adult topic, it’s weighed down by snarky self-indulgence. Too often it wants to have its cake and eat it too, excusing its reliance on clichés by preemptively pointing out that it’s using them. (Example: Ellijah Wood, as Celeste’s saucy gay friend, identifying himself as her “saucy gay friend.”)

Watch the trailer for Celeste and Jesse Forever

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