When women have meltdowns in the movies, the meltdowns rarely overstay their welcome. A box of tissues dispatched, a Ben & Jerry’s gorge, maybe a bottle of wine (but never more than one). “Keep it cute” might as well be stitched on our heroine’s flannel pajamas, which she will wear for a week straight to signal her heart’s woe, her head’s distress.
Celeste (Jones) is not about cute, and her meltdown is long and slow and sometimes awful to watch. She and Jesse (Samberg) are best friends, and they are getting divorced. At first it seems like the break will be painless enough: They share a car, dinner dates, and the babbling banter of a long union. Jesse still hopes they might reconcile, though Celeste, a sharp-suited professional trend-watcher and published author, has been candid about her weariness, waiting for artist Jesse to get his shit together. (Step one: Less surfing, more art-making.) Then someone does something that can’t be taken back – a cleaver hack to the comfortable bubble they’ve built around their unit of two – and “forever” hits the skids. It’s kind of a car crash.
Celeste & Jesse Forever is far funnier than you’d expect a film about a tortuous split to be – and more deft and melancholy than any other comedy I can recall that co-stars a six-foot bong and a tub of Cheese Balls. Jones and pal Will McCormack co-wrote the script, and it’s a savvy, empathetic exploration of the tenderness and feelings of ownership that don’t evaporate overnight. They complicate the best of intentions and magnify the worst – and here, we see Celeste at her very best and her very worst. (And, yes, on the rare occasion, we see her sogging toward too-cute waters, but director Lee Toland Krieger steers the character back to tougher terrain; his underseen 2009 indie The Vicious Kind also knew a thing or two about the heart as an open, oozing wound.) The cast, top to bottom, is terrific, especially the comic actor Andy Samberg – a revelation as the hapless, hurting Jesse – and co-writer McCormack, as a truth-bomb-dropping pot dealer named Skillz. But it’s Jones who owns the movie. After too much time wasted with girlfriend and gal-pal parts (lately, she’s played the straight man on NBC’s Parks and Recreation), she’s hand-delivered herself a hell of a part – a pirouette between thunderstruck and seething, acerbic and aching – and she takes the stage with the startling punch and poise of an understudy who always knew she had the goods. Now everybody else knows, too.