There’s a trend in rom-coms to take the phrase “happily ever after” and add a question mark to the end. With Celeste and Jesse Forever, star and co-writer Rashida Jones debuted the latest installment in this burgeoning sub-genre Friday night at the Sundance Film Festival.
The movie, which premiered to a packed 1,200-seat theater well-populated by studio scouts, starts with a longtime couple who seem to be leading that fairy tale existence, only … not really. The title characters, played by Jones (Parks and Recreation) and SNL’s Andy Samberg have been together since they were in high school, seem to communicate mainly through the code of various in-jokes, and disgust all their friends by how cute they act.
Only trouble is, they’ve been “separated” for months – but somehow are getting along better than ever since they decided to get divorced. Just because they won’t be married anymore, they reason, doesn’t mean they can’t still be pals. (Yeah, their friends don’t get this either.)
During the post-screening Q&A, an audience member asked about the state of the characters’ happiness, and all Jones could do is shrug.
“Who’s happy?” she said.
“If nothing else, their definition of happiness has changed,” the actress added. Like (500) Days of Summer and Sleepwalk With Me, another comedy at this year’s festival about a mismatched couple trying in vain to make it work, the fear of being alone can sometimes be the only thing holding two disparate people together.
Will McCormack, who co-wrote the film and co-stars as a philosophical weed-dealer, said the story was cobbled together from various experiences he and Jones have had in real life. “It’s kind of a version of several breakups that we’ve all had,” he said. “A lot of it came from personal experience.”
Throughout the story, directed by Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind), Celeste and Jesse reconnect, fall apart, reconnect, and fall apart again, often when one or the other is at their neediest. Again, not a recipe for a healthy relationship, but a common situation nonetheless. “We wanted it to be like real life. You don’t always get what you want, but you can endure and go on,” McCormack said. “It’s really a story about heartbreak and finding a way to survive it.”
While snap-judgments on Twitter were divided after the screening, the movie is considered a hot title for studios due to its well-known leads and a supporting cast that includes Emma Roberts, Elijah Wood, Ari Graynor, and Chris Messina.
Check back soon for EW’s official review, and here’s a sitdown EW’s own Dave Karger did with the cast.
On Twitter: @Breznican