Rashida Jones is no stranger to being in front of the camera. However, acting as screenwriter is new territory for the daughter of Quincy Jones/Harvard graduate (my two favorite fun facts about her, apart from Tupac being a friend of hers/getting engaged to her sister). Co-written with Will McCormack, who also plays the role of Skillz, a weed dealer and mutual friend of Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg), Celeste and Jesse Forever proves that there is no limit to Jones’ ability in the film and television arena.
As the opening credits roll, Lily Allen’s “Littlest Things” plays bittersweetly (though, for whatever reason Allen is now Lily Rose Cooper—reinvention and what have you) over a montage of pictures of the two of them, a tone that is quickly counteracted as it transitions to Jesse and Celeste singing the song with carefree playfulness in the car. As Jesse drives past the Disney Concert Hall, he tries to point out its beauty to Celeste, who balks and takes a phone call about the latest book she has written, Shitegeist (how this book isn’t real, I don’t know). After she gives a sound bite for the book’s promotion, Jesse receives a call as well, insisting it’s extremely important. When he’s off the phone, Celeste asks him if it was about an illustration job he interviewed for. Jesse says it was about something far better, a swell off the coast that will make the waves perfect for surfing. Celeste rolls her eyes, indicating the first sign of her constant disappointment in what she views as his slackerdom.
Later that night, Celeste and Jesse meet up with their friends, Beth (Ari Graynor) and Steve (Eric Christian Olsen), at the Cha Cha Lounge (which you should really go to if you live in L.A.), still acting as though they are a couple—and, up until this point, you’re led to believe that they are. They even discuss a recent show they saw at the Silver Lake Lounge (sadly, no longer a hidden gem) featuring Fuck Your Mom and Pleasus Christ (yet more fictional pop culture from the movie that I wish was real). It isn’t until Beth angrily blurts out that it’s weird for the two of them to be this close when they’re on the verge of signing divorce papers that we discover they aren’t really together. On the car ride home, Jesse and Celeste both reassure themselves that it’s perfectly normal for them to be spending this much time with each other, diving right into one of their numerous inside jokes, this one involving jacking off a tube of chapstick until Jesse squeezes it out and dabs it on his lips. It is instances like these that reveal the natural rapport between Jones and Samberg throughout the film.
As it becomes clearer that Jesse is finding it impossible to get over Celeste, Skillz tells him to just start dating so that he can make her jealous and realize what she’s losing. He also brings up a girl named Veronica (Rebecca Dayan) who Jesse slept with three months ago. Jesse shrugs it off and reminds Skillz not to tell Celeste about his dalliance. In the meantime, Celeste goes on a TV interview to discuss her book, trashing current pop star of the moment, Riley Banks (Emma Roberts, who easily emulates the Ke$ha persona). Once her interview is over, she returns to her office, Pop Form, a marketing company she co-manages with her awkwardly gay friend, Scott (Elijah Wood, who, incidentally, is the perfect casting choice for an awkwardly gay male). He reluctantly informs her that he’s agreed to take on the marketing for Riley’s next album, a fact that makes Celeste cringe as she loathes everything that Riley stands for. Scott, however, doesn’t feel the company will be able to stay afloat without the money Riley’s business will bring in. Thus, Celeste grudgingly agrees to take her on, in spite of Riley embodying Celeste’s belief that “the more crap people consume, the more crap they want.”
While Jesse’s efforts to make Celeste jealous fail miserably, Celeste feels no hesitation in drunkenly calling him one night to help her assemble an Ikea dresser (“Fuck Sweden” is the succinct manner in which she describes her challenges in trying to build it based on the instructions). When Jesse joins her in drinking and assembles the dresser into the shape of a robot, all signs point to having sex, a matter that Jesse takes far more seriously than Celeste, as he learns too late the next morning. Shamed and upset, Jesse refuses to take Celeste’s calls as she embarks upon a book tour planned by the worst navigator of all-time as she ends up traveling first to New York then to San Francisco then back to the East Coast to Boston. When she returns to Los Angeles two weeks later, Jesse relents to calling her back, evidently with news to share. What that news is, Celeste never could have anticipated as he informs her that Veronica is pregnant (Celeste had only met her once before weeks earlier when she was deliberately trying to rearrange her books to appear more prominently at Book Soup). Shocked and crestfallen, Celeste initially feigns excitement for Jesse’s unexpected new life—though she also takes up smoking weed to help numb the emotions.
As she grapples with the revelation that she made a huge mistake (Arrested Development style), Celeste tries to focus on dating Paul (Chris Messina), a financial analyst with enough bravado to hit on her during their yoga class. Instead of being receptive, Celeste proves her prowess as a trend forecaster by telling Paul all of the most unpleasant realities of his life (e.g. switching from an iPhone to a Droid). It isn’t until she sees Paul again at a Halloween party where she’s dressed in a white garbage bag (white trash) and he’s dressed in a shirt with cereal boxes and bloodied knives sticking out of it (serial killer) that she realizes she should give Paul a chance and not be so hasty to throw someone away the way she did with Jesse.
In spite of vaguely opening her heart to someone new, Celeste’s road toward recovery isn’t in the vain of your typical romantic comedy. Jones’ acting is consistently on point as the jaded, jilted lush who finds it difficult to invest any effort into her life without the man she feels she truly belongs with, the person she thought would always be her best friend. The approach Jones takes to the third act offers something entirely different than what audiences are used to with this particular genre. All that can really be said is, Jones is a much needed, much welcome addition to the film industry’s scant arsenal of female screenwriters.