They say that breaking up is hard to do, and that certainly seems to be the case for Celeste and Jesse (Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg), who are getting divorced despite the fact that they still hang out together all the time, still love each other, and still have a great time goofing off together. Their friends don’t understand it, and indeed, it’s tough at first to see why these two would be even considering breaking it off – but it soon comes down to the fact that Celeste is moving onward and upward in her career, and she really wants someone more upwardly mobile than unemployed artist Jesse at her side, preferring to relegate Jesse to “best friend” status instead.
It may be unromantic of me to say it, but I understand where she’s coming from – thinking of a potential life partner as one navigates the dating pool involves not just mutual attraction, but serious consideration of whether this person would make a good parent, or a good co-provider. It’s a testament to Jones’ and McCormack’s script that these issues, which are almost never seriously discussed in romantic comedies (especially in a post-marriage situation) are explored here without making either Celeste or Jesse the villain, or even unlikable. In fact, just the opposite. In fact, the chemistry between Jones and Samberg is almost TOO good. Celeste at one point mentions that they’re better friends now that they’re separated and not fighting all the time, but we never see any of those fights, so it’s a little hard to believe that she’s not exaggerating their apparent friction.
In fact, Jesse goes along with her separated-but-friends relationship because he’s still hoping to change her mind. Predictably, when he finally gives up and dates another woman seriously, it’s Celeste that can’t deal. There are a few cliched bits in the story, especially the predictable switcheroo on who can’t let go and a dreaded one-night-stand pregnancy, but by and large the script avoids feeling stale and hits some solid insights about modern relationships – thankfully, though it takes some shortcuts in storytelling, it doesn’t really take any easy ways out.
Most of why it works, though, is due to Rashida Jones, both as co-writer and actress. When the script is on, it’s really on, and as an actress, she is always on. Celeste is a very flawed character, who often makes the wrong choices and even more often makes them at the wrong time, yet she always remains relatable, someone you feel like you already know. It’s more her story than Jesse’s, but Samberg gets his chance to shine, too, his affable and goofy SNL persona tempered with a bit more sadness and, yes, despite the premise, maturity. Together, they make the screen light up so much that you hope against hope that the title, as Hollywood romantic comedy cliche as it is, turns out to be true.
Not everything in the film totally works – co-author Will McCormack’s drug-dealer side character is humorous, but leads to brief and out-of-place scenes that neither fit with Celeste’s character nor go anywhere in particular; the afore-mentioned pregnancy cliche had me rolling my eyes; the subplot with Emma Roberts’ pop-star is well-done, but also a bit distracting from the main story; and actually seeing some of the relationship struggles before their separation might’ve made that separation a little more believable. It still remains an enjoyable take on the romantic comedy/drama genre, and its very overt Los Angeles setting, lovingly rendered in some gorgeous soft cinematography, is calculated to win a few points with me. The film as a whole may not have utterly charmed me, but Jones and Samberg did, and I’m very glad to see them taking on roles like this and carrying them off so well.
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Screenplay: Rashida Jones and Will McCormack
Starring: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Emma Roberts, Will McCormack, Elijah Wood, Ari Graynor.
Running Time: 91 min.