Celeste and Jesse Forever
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
Starring: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen  
Rated R for language, sexual content, and drug use   
1 hr. 32 mins.

Given the cast in this film, I expected something either very funny, very gross or both. What Celeste and Jesse Forever provided was a little of each, plus something extra. Call it a dramedy with a heart.

Granted, the premise about a recently divorced couple who remain best friends may seem like a gooey setup, but be patient with this film. It starts slowly and builds. It starts predictably, but throws in little surprises along the way.

Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) are on the verge of divorce. Except they don’t act like a typical divorced couple. Their good friends Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen) and Beth (Ari Graynor) don’t get it. Neither does anyone else.

You see, Celeste and Jesse seem perfectly happy as a divorced couple. He still lives in his studio in the back yard of Celeste’s house. They go to concerts, call each other regularly, even simulate sex acts.

It turns out they’ve been friends since grade school, and the friendship has been crucial in both their lives. They may be splitting, but they intend to stay friends; that is, until Jesse discovers that, from an earlier one-night stand with a girl named Veronica, he’s going to be a father. Faced with parenthood, he decides to try growing up.

Celeste wants to roll with this. She even makes some ill-fated attempts to start dating again. Unfortunately for her, she really is in love with Jesse and wants him back. Now the complications ensue. It’s a will he or won’t he, will she or won’t she type of situation.

There are some humorous moments in this film, particularly a scene poolside in which Celeste, in the course of a single afternoon, turns herself into a floating train wreck.

But the real pull of this film is the sharp yet gentle screenplay provided by Jones and writing partner Will McCormack (Jesse’s drug pusher friend Skillz). It may start off light and fluffy, but it doesn’t stay that way.

Even while shifting to a darker tone, Celeste and Jesse avoids being maudlin or predictable. If you think you know how this film is going to end, guess again.

The film’s premise is also adventurous. Many motion pictures have tried and failed to explore the fine gray line between men and women, what might be called the love-friend duality. They fail because they’re only willing to skim the surface.

Celeste and Jesse actually manages to dig a little deeper. It’s not Annie Hall or Manhattan, but it’s more fun, more interesting and more insightful than recent clunkers like Friends With Kids.

Jones also brings her acting chops. She’s a motor-mouth. She’s opinionated. She’s convinced she knows what’s right, especially when it comes to Jesse. She also has a big heart, which she tries unsuccessfully to hide. Watching her go from sure-footed executive to drunk in the pool is fun, and her wedding speech at the end is delivered with just the right amount of pathos and regret.

The supporting cast is also strong, particularly Elijah Wood as her gay business partner, Ari Graynor as her soon-to-be married best girlfriend, and Chris Messina as her new on-again, off-again boyfriend.

Celeste and Jesse is not a knock-your-socks-off kind of film. It’s more of a sneaks-up-and-surprises-you kind of film. Whether what you just witnessed is really love, well, that’s the question it raises as it gently probes into what we, as men and women, endure in the name of romance. Then, like most of us who fall in and out of love and recover and do the whole damn thing again, it quietly moves on.